DCMF Board

The story behind Dear 16 Year Old Me

By Kim Davis, Board Member, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

David and Sari Cornfield were two of our closest friends. Mark and I met David at Deloitte where we worked. David was the one who, much to his amusement and delight, first discovered our blooming interoffice romance a few years before.

Dear 16 Year Old MeI remember the evening that David and Sari told us about his melanoma diagnosis.  David always exuded positivity and optimism, but he had a rare moment of seriousness and concern that night.  Despite his tone and the look on Sari’s face as they gave us the news, I barely reacted.  I was a little bit embarrassed that I had never heard of melanoma before, but as David explained that it was a form a skin cancer, I assumed that it wasn’t serious.  After all, as I recall saying to Mark later that evening, he was lucky because skin cancer could surely just be cut out.

Even as the cancer progressed, Mark and I had no idea how serious David’s situation was, despite regular updates.  David fought with courage and grace.  He loved life and his glass was always overflowing, as he would say.  There have been many times following David’s passing that I have reflected back and wished that I had understood the gravity of his situation and been more sensitive and supportive to our dear friend.

Eventually it became obvious that David wasn’t going to beat melanoma.  His case, we assumed, was a tragically rare situation. It wasn’t until after David passed and we helped to form the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund that I began to do more research.  I was shocked at what I learned.  David’s situation wasn’t rare at all. In fact, it was all too common.

Melanoma is one of the most preventable and detectable forms of cancer, yet its incidence continues to grow significantly, particularly among young people.  Most alarming to me was that if people could catch it early, they would almost certainly survive, but if not, they would likely only survive less than five years.

With the advancement of social media, I was able to read all sorts of stories about young people who discovered suspicious moles years before being diagnosed, but didn’t do anything about it. And stories about people who unwittingly engaged in risky behaviour such as allowing themselves or their children to get sunburned or use tanning beds, only to develop melanoma a few years later.  Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends – all real people with names and faces. My heart was broken.

I was a 29 year-old, well-educated professional at the time of David’s diagnosis. I was pretty sure that if I wasn’t aware of melanoma, many others weren’t either.  Surely if we could educate people, we could save lives. That realization weighed heavily on me and fuelled my commitment to fulfill David’s dream of spreading awareness.

marisa on set

In 2011, the DCMF Board decided to create an awareness video. None of us really knew what it should look like or how we would promote it. At that time, we had no employees and we were all young parents with full-time demanding jobs. Then, divine intevenation. The communications firm that we hired to create the video had a very special member.

Marisa Caple was young, passionate, creative, and extremely talented. She was in our target demographic and she understood how to most effectively reach our target audience.  She had a vision that the DCMF board, mostly comprised of accountants and lawyers (not the most creative people), couldn’t fully appreciate.   We were contemplating a video to show in schools and camps; Marisa persuaded us to launch the video on YouTube instead. We provided Marisa with the key messages that we wanted to convey and she wrote two alternative scripts for our consideration.  We chose one, but Marisa knew that the other entitled ‘Dear 16 Year Old Me’, was the video that would engage and empower its viewers the most.

dear 16 groupWe wanted our video to be authentic, so we decided to recruit real, young melanoma survivors or families of melanoma patients. Easier said than done! We needed twelve to fifteen participants, but due to privacy laws, we were unable to ask doctors or hospitals for names. We asked our friends and families, but were only able to identify five or so participants.  Time was tight as we wanted to get the video released in time for our upcoming fundraising event. So my late evenings were spent scouring the internet for melanoma blogs and websites and reaching out to patients, friends, and families to see if they would be willing to take a chance on DCMF, a completely new and unknown charity, and fly to Toronto to be in our video.  We finally found our participants, and they were perfect.

The morning of filming, I was an emotional wreck. This had become an important and personal project.  As I got into my car to go to the studio, I turned on my radio and the first song to come on was “Beautiful Day” by U2. This was David’s favourite song and the line ‘It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it slip away’ was his personal motto. I immediately knew everything would be ok.

dear 16 on set

We met many of the participants for the first time on the day of filming and we felt an instant connection with each of them, a connection we continue to treasure immensely. It was a wonderful, fun, exciting, happy day.

The DCMF board members were not allowed into the filming area, so we really didn’t know what to expect.  But when we viewed the first cut of the video for the first time a few weeks later, we knew that it was special. Of course we had no idea how special.

Dear 16 Year Old Me was released on YouTube on May 3rd, 2011. By May 4th, it had over 25,000 views. By May 5th, it had over one million views, including various channels outside of YouTube, in over 15 countries. By the end of 2011, Dear 16 Year Old Me was the 7th most shared ad in the world – an incredible achievement for a small non-profit organization. To say that we were amazed is an understatement.

dear 16 year old me cast at launchToday, Dear 16 Year Old Me has been viewed by close to 10 million people in 215 countries, shared by organizations and celebrities, featured in the media (including on NBC’s Today Show), and won a number of awards. The video clearly resonated with people, and through it we have made huge strides in achieving our goals of educating people and saving lives.

Here is just one of the countless emails that we received:

“Thank you, thank you very much! If it wasn’t for your video, that I saw by chance on YouTube a few months ago, I would have never thought to have my skin checked… I actually didn’t know what melanoma was! Now everything seems to be fine, you, your commitment your work actually saved my life. Thank you with all myself, I hope I will have the opportunity to support your precious job in the years to come. I really owe you so much. Thank you. Cesare from Italy”.

Dear 16 Year Old Me propelled the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund onto the global stage and earned us the credibility needed to become the organization we are today. It also validated the fact that our message of awareness was compelling – our viewers heard it, understood it, and shared it.

So with that knowledge, the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund will continue to work tirelessly to promote melanoma prevention and early detection.  We are incredibly thankful to everyone who made Dear 16 Year Old succeed and all the donors and supporters that took a chance on us. We hope that we have made each of them proud. And of course, we hope that we have made David proud too.

 


The inspiration behind the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

By Sari Cornfield, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund Board Member

My name is Sari Cornfield and I was blessed to be David Cornfield’s wife. Our love story began as do most – boy meets girl, girl and boy fall in love, get married and so on. We were young and in love, we were best friends who spent every free moment together. We were starting our life together, having adventures, working hard at our respective careers and planning to start a family. Unfortunately, that’s where our love story took a turn.

One night David complained of an itchy bump under a mole on his back. David had a family history of melanoma so I made him an appointment with his dermatologist. The biopsy results were not what we expected and in an instant the floor dropped out from under our perfect world.

David was 29, a rising star at his accounting firm with his whole life ahead of him. A cancer diagnosis was not in our plans. And so together as a team we tackled the cancer as we did any other challenge. I followed David, my fearless leader, as he directed the course of the next year. And he did so with his usual determination, confidence and humour. Cancer was no match for David! We spent hours researching and discussing the best treatment options. David suffered through a year of treatment with brutal side effects that challenged both of us to our core.

david sari noahWith a clean bill of health, a new sense of appreciation for every single day and my strong vibrant David feeling more like his pre-cancer self, we were delighted to find out we were expecting our first child. April 2, 2004 was filled with excitement, joy and so much love and gratitude as we welcomed our shining star Noah into our family. Our first year as a family of three was the usual sleepless nights, magical firsts and continued thankfulness for our beautiful life together.

One week after Noah’s first birthday, David went for a routine scan where a spot on his lung was found. And a few days later, despite prayers and hope, our worst fears were confirmed. The cancer was back and this time the beast would not be tamed.

For the second time, our happy, blessed life was turned upside down and we were faced with surgeries, travelling to the US for treatment and scary statistics. David reassured me that we would beat the odds. Again he smiled through treatments that tested his endurance convinced the more terrible the side effects, the better chance of it defeating the cancer in his body. But the beast raged on and the cancer quickly spread to his brain, intestine and finally his spinal column, paralyzing him and confining him to bed. I will never forget the terrible day the doctors took away our last shred of hope telling us there was nothing more they could do.

During the last few weeks we had together, David and I continued the long talks we had always shared. David believed there was a reason behind his illness and knew that his story would somehow be used to make a difference in the fight against melanoma. December 18, 2005, of all the awful days we had experienced, was the very worst. This was the day David told me quietly he had to go.

The days, weeks and months that followed David’s death were some of my darkest moments. The only things propelling me forwards were my beautiful son and David’s wish and belief that something good would come of this tragedy.

Because of the amazing person that David was and all of the lives he had touched, soon the people around me stepped forward wondering how to honour their friend, their brother, their colleague. Collectively we were all looking to channel our grief in a way that would honour David. And thus, the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund was born. And with it a sense of pride as we knew we were encompassing David’s spirit and values and a legacy that would help others and hopefully make an impact on the melanoma community.

During those early months and years, we struggled to find DCMF’s purpose. We wondered how we as a small charity could make the most impact. As we met and began to talk, to explore and to share ideas, it felt as if David, our leader, was once again guiding us. I remembered a conversation with David where I was convinced that we needed to start a charity to raise funds for research because I was so frustrated with our own experience of having such limited treatment options. David said: “A million dollars buys a test tube. It is impossible to make a difference that way. We need to raise awareness.”

It is hard to believe it has been 11 years since David left us and 10 years since DCMF began the journey to aid in the awareness and prevention of melanoma. We have come a long way thanks to the incredible support of so many. With each life lost and each life touched and saved, our determination grows. I know that David is so proud of all we have accomplished and all that we will continue to do.

10 Year DCMF LOGO

 


10 year anniversary of David Cornfield’s passing

 

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December 18th is DCMF’s toughest day. It’s the day that David Cornfield passed away in 2005. This year is especially difficult as it marks the 10 year anniversary of David’s death.

The loss of David changed us forever. David was, simply put, the very best. Words cannot express how much he is missed.

It was David’s personal wish that DCMF be created to 1) spread awareness of melanoma prevention and 2) support melanoma research.

Amidst their deep grief, our founding board members, comprised of David’s family, friends and colleagues formed DCMF in 2007. These dedicated board members continue to lead DCMF today.

10 years after David’s death, thanks to the generosity of our loyal donors and sponsors, we are very proud of what we have accomplished on David’s behalf:

  • Dear 16 Year Old Me, 2011: awareness video
  • Melanoma Base Camp, 2012: winter sun protection event
  • Blue Jays, 2013, 2014, 2015: DCMF is hosted by the Blue Jays Play Sun Smart program
  • David Cornfield Melanoma Fund Award, 2015: $100,000 endowed award at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, awarded annually to a PhD student excelling in melanoma research
  • #newfamilyrule, 2015: melanoma prevention video for families
  • Sun Smart Kids, 2015:  melanoma prevention program distributing thousands of hats, magnets and information to kindergarten children and their families in the Toronto District School Board

As we remember David this month, we take stock of what we have achieved and strengthen our resolve to help everyone protect and check their skin to reduce their risk of melanoma. We have great momentum and are driven to achieve more in David’s name. We are extremely excited about what lays ahead for DCMF in 2016 and beyond.

 

 


Remembering Meredith

Written by: Elyse Sunshine, Board Member, DCMF

Meredith collage 3

On February 24, 2014, our dear friend Meredith Legg Stapleton passed away at the age of 26 from ocular melanoma (OM).  We met Meredith when she kindly donated her time to travel from South Carolina to Toronto to film Dear 16 Year Old Me.  The minute we met Meredith, we knew we were in the presence of someone very special.  With her gorgeous smile, sparkling eyes and charming Southern accent, Meredith stole our hearts.

This Hall of Fame basketball player was a beloved and respected figure wherever she lived but particularly, in her University town of Aiken, South Carolina.  She held many records including all- time leader in scoring and sinking the most three-pointers in one game career  – just to name a few. In addition to her success on the court, Meredith achieved academic and career success and was popular with her classmates and colleagues.

Diagnosed with OM when she was just 22, Meredith was determined not to let this serious illness stop her from living life to the fullest and chose to use her illness to help raise awareness. When she participated in the filming of Dear 16 Year Old Me in 2011, her OM had spread to her liver, but you would never have known it from her energy and enthusiasm.  She was so excited to be part of this project and like us, never dreamed of the worldwide attention it would garner.  Meredith shone in the video.  Numerous people reached out to her to express their admiration. Many others told her that she had motivated them to get checked and their lives had been saved through early diagnosis and successful treatment.  As in her everyday life, Meredith was an inspiration to countless young people – showing fierce determination, zest for life and quiet courage and dignity.

To know Meredith was to know a whole community of people who loved her.  We were so fortunate through Meredith to get to know her incredible parents, siblings and friends. It was not surprising that Meredith was raised by and surrounded herself with people who were as genuine, kind and lovely as she was.

In October 2012, Meredith married her high school sweetheart, Christopher Stapleton – a truly wonderful man.   Again, Meredith took this opportunity to raise awareness, appearing in the TLC show “Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta” and speaking bravely about her melanoma with her mom, sister and best girlfriends by her side.  Meredith’s wedding was on a lovely fall day, befitting this stunning bride. It was a privilege to all those present to watch these two young people, so obviously in love, exchange their wedding vows.

Enjoying newlywed life, Meredith tackled her cancer bravely – participating without complaint in any available treatment that her tireless parents and healthcare providers could track down for her. When all treatment options were sadly exhausted, Meredith faced this final journey with the same spirit that she had lived her whole life.

Surrounded by those who loved her, Meredith passed away on February 24, 2014, just a few days before her 27th birthday.  Our thoughts are with her family – her beloved husband Christopher, her devoted parents Basil and Robin, her sister and brother-in-law, Lyndsi and Rick, her brother Trey and her darling nephew and nieces, in addition to her countless friends and admirers.

We love you Meredith and you will always be in our hearts and thoughts.

Meredith collage 4

 


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