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Smith creates memorial fund to fight melanoma

When Don Smith’s wife passed away on Mother’s Day in 2009 from melanoma cancer that had been dormant for more than 20 years, he knew he had to do something.

For the last two years he has been the chief fundraiser of the Elizabeth Roberta Smith Melanoma Cancer Research Fund, a non-profit organization he founded that is dedicated to the prevention of melanoma cancer primarily through research and education.

“There’s no use in anyone having to die like that,” he said.

Elizabeth and Don Smith were married for 45 years. She worked with him for 30 years at Sun and Shade Garden Center in Lookout Valley, and left behind her husband, two children and five grandchildren.

Since the organization’s creation, it has raised $16,786.80. Pete Cooper, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, is the organization’s financial manager and ensures that 98.5 percent of every dollar goes to research, and a board of directors allocates those funds to specific researchers, said Smith.

The past two years have seen two breakthroughs in melanoma research, according to Smith. Researchers have confirmed that melanoma is passed genetically, and a team of worldwide researchers has developed a pill that helps prevent melanoma from spreading and slows down its effects.

But Smith says people have misconceptions about the nature of malignant melanoma.

“You don’t cut off melanoma, it’s in your blood” said Smith.

According to Smith, melanoma is a fast-spreading cancer that travels through the blood and sometimes manifests itself through skin lesions that are believed to be activated by the sun.

“If you’ve got malignant melanoma, you’re in trouble,” he said.

Smith said he and the board of directors continue to raise money year-round. They recently invited Martina McBride to come to Chattanooga for this year’s fundraiser, but plan to have a dinner and silent auction if she is unable to attend. Smith said he would like to see more corporate support for the organization.

According to the Hamilton County 2010 Health Data Profile, the 37419 ZIP code, consisting of the Tiftonia and Lookout Valley area where Smith lives and works, has the highest incidence of cancer in Hamilton County.

“We’re doing this to ourselves,” said Smith.

Smith said with more money and more research, melanoma can be cured along with other cancers.

JOIN THE FIGHT

For more information about the Elizabeth Roberta Smith Melanoma Cancer Research Fund or melanoma research, visit here or Sun and Shade Garden Center in Lookout Valley. Donation checks can be made out to CFGC with a notation that the money goes to the Elizabeth memorial fund.

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