A melanoma diagnosis was the last thing Richard Crowder and his family ever expected.
“My dad grew up on a farm in central Illinois and loved the outdoors,” says Ryan McMichael, Richard’s son. “And being very active he’d go outside every chance he got. Melanoma simply wasn’t anything we ever imagined could happen. But then, we didn’t really know anything about it.”
That was in early 2005. By Thanksgiving that same year, they not only knew more about melanoma, but had an action plan.
Come Out Swinging
“Our family is very close. In fact, the four cousins are more like brothers,” says Ian Guthrie, one of Richard’s nephews. “Richard was always very special to us, so we knew we had to do something. We couldn’t do anything for him from a clinical standpoint, but we thought we could at least bring something positive out of a bad situation. A fund-raising golf tournament seemed the most natural thing for us to do.”
The event was a resounding success and it left the cousins asking themselves, “Why limit it to a golf tournament?” So in late 2007, they formed Come Out Swinging, a non-profit organization dedicated to melanoma prevention and treatment advances. Today, it sponsors an annual golf tournament as well as other events. Come Out Swinging partners with St. Louis based S.P.O.T.S. (Sun Protection Outreach Teaching by Students), which brings medical students into high school classrooms to teach melanoma awareness.
“We’re a nation of sun worshippers so melanoma impacts a lot of people,” Ian explains. “There is no cure, but it’s preventable if you protect yourself from the sun. And if melanoma is caught early, the treatment has a high success rate. That’s why we’re so passionate about education and research.”
A Fitting Tribute
Richard Crowder passed away in August 2011. Soon afterward, his family established the Richard A. Crowder Memorial Research Fund through The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital in his honor. Funds are currently supporting groundbreaking melanoma research and clinical initiatives conducted by Lynn Cornelius, MD, chief of dermatology at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, and Gerald Linette, MD, PhD, an oncologist at Siteman. Both doctors were involved in treating Richard.
“This was an obvious next step,” Ryan says. “My dad was always a champion of research.”
Drs. Cornelius and Linette have three key melanoma projects underway supported by the Crowder Fund. The first initiative involves patient education. The second, through the Genome Institute at Washington University, is looking at the genetic makeup of metastatic melanoma tumors (those that have spread to other organs) to better understand the mechanisms that contribute to the disease. This understanding may lead to the development of new treatments.
The third initiative, also done in conjunction with the Genome Institute, seeks to stimulate a patient’s own immune cells and develop “killer T cells” capable of fighting the cancer directly, without hurting healthy tissue. According to Ryan, Richard participated in one of the early clinical trials of a new immunotherapy drug, which stimulated the T cells in the blood to combat the melanoma.
“Melanoma is the most serious of cancers,” Dr. Cornelius says. “It is also the fastest growing cancer in the United States and worldwide. That’s why research such as ours is so important. Unfortunately, these studies are not inexpensive, even when done in our own institution.”
Dr. Cornelius adds that applying for funding from larger organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute is difficult unless you already have preliminary data. Support for initial studies through the Crowder Memorial Fund and others like it at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital yield extraordinary returns as physicians go on to approach these larger organizations for funding.
“If you have an idea that you think will work, you’re stuck unless you can somehow obtain the money to fund the original research,” Dr. Cornelius says. “Thanks to support from the Crowder Fund and other research funds, we can continue working to develop more types of therapies to treat our patients.”
According to his family, that’s exactly what Richard Crowder would have wanted.
“Richard took every shot to fight the disease and to help with research for future melanoma patients,” Ian says. “It’s a great legacy.”
Please support melanoma research by making a gift to the Richard A. Crowder Memorial Research Fund (#7619) at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Make a donation online, call 314-286-0600 or email GivingBarnesJewish@bjc.org.