By Alicia Rowell, Vice President
It’s like the job description was written for her.
Heather Tebbenhoff brings a wealth of experience to her new role as Director of Community Engagement for AIM at Melanoma. In fact, she’s held this same role for the last five years at her previous non-profit, one focused on literacy. Before that, she worked in a similar capacity for the Salvation Army.
Originally from a very small town, she didn’t even know what a non-profit was when she entered college. She studied communications at Virginia Wesleyan College and did some student outreach coordination while an undergraduate. From there, the non-profit roles kept coming—from teen AIDS work to homeless children’s educational advocacy and several others. After a while, she says, “I realized I had a passion for helping people.”
One of the many aspects of her background that drew us to Heather is her experience with volunteer engagement. So many people in the AIM community have asked us, how can I help? And for so long we have wanted to create a robust and gratifying volunteer program for the AIM community. Now we can! We are delighted that Heather has loads of experience putting together successful and rewarding volunteer programs, and we can’t wait to see what she creates for our aspiring volunteers.
With all of this professional experience, we were thrilled to hire Heather, but she has fitting personal experience, too.
When Heather was in high school, her grandfather—”a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan and someone with whom I was extremely close”—was diagnosed with melanoma. The melanoma was on the top of his head, and he went through a lot in his fight, including multiple skin grafts and radiation treatments. After a number of years, the melanoma came back in the form of brain metastases, “but my grandfather made a personal decision not to pursue further treatment.” He did not tell his family about this decision, however; he told them he was melanoma-free.
Heather, meanwhile, now an adult, was referred to a dermatologist when her primary care doctor noticed an odd-looking mole on her lower back. The dermatologist at first wasn’t sure whether to biopsy it, but Heather pushed to have it biopsied, given her grandfather’s melanoma. Thank goodness she did, as it was indeed melanoma, Stage 0.
“It was a good wake-up call,” says Heather. “I’d never worn sunscreen as a young person, even though I lived outside.” She’s now well-known by her family and friends as the advocate for regular dermatologist visits and sunscreen use.
Sadly, one year after her melanoma was found, her grandfather passed away from his melanoma—and her family learned only then that he’d foregone treatment.
Heather is happily married and living in Virginia with her husband and a pit bull mix dog “who is our entire world.”