Reminder Assistant Editor
WILBRAHAM Although a majority of reporters came to the Wilbraham Country Club last Tuesday to talk to a World Series winning pitcher, that pitcher made sure the focus of the evening stayed on the SHADE Foundation.
Curt Schilling trekked to Wilbraham with his wife, Shonda, for the release party for the SHADE Foundation's first fundraising calendar, a collection of black and white photography showcasing the scars and stories of survivors of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
The event was coordinated by Meghan Rothschild, the 23-year-old melanoma survivor who also organized the calendar project. With eight of the 13 calendar models (and a conspicuously tall man wearing a World Series ring) standing beside her, Rothschild told those in attendance that "survivorship is beautiful."
"This is a real cancer," Shonda stated. "I live in Arizona where it can be 115 degrees everyday. SHADE started with buying shade covers for schools that couldn't afford them -- schools that couldn't even afford books. We've already bought between 50 and 100 shade covers. Protection is important."
Shonda, who had to have six inches from her back removed as a result of her melanoma, said the cancer came about because she was "trying to be what the world thought a baseball wife should be."
"This calendar was fun," Shonda told those in attendance. "It was an experience for me with getting comfortable." She added that because of Curt's good news -- signing a one year, $8 million contract with the Boston Red Sox -- the calendar release party "happened on a perfect night."
The pitcher wasn't the only family support present for those involved in the SHADE Foundation's "Your Future is in Your Hands" calendar. Rothschild's sisters and parents came to show their support and their pride for what the young woman has accomplished.
"It started with 'My God, my child has cancer' to 'Look at what she's doing now,'" her mother, Deborah Rothschild, said. "She graduated college with a 3.7 GPA. She had her operation [a removal of eight lymph nodes that required 70 stitches] on a Friday and was back in class on Tuesday. She didn't miss a beat. When Meghan came to terms with what had happened, she said she wanted to do something positive."
Deborah added that she "can't be proud enough" of her daughter.
"This is one girl who won't be beaten by this," she said.
Meghan's sister Jennifer Rothschild-Shea has supported her sister's effort by actively selling the calendars and gathering donations. She supported her sibling by staying by her side through Meghan's cancer and her recovery.
Their grandmother also had a bout with melanoma later in her life. Jennifer said the entire family now goes for yearly skin cancer screenings.
"You need to do regular body checks on yourself," Jennifer stressed. "The future really is in your hands."
Meghan's sister Meredith flew from her home in North Carolina to attend the calendar release party. She also grew out her hair three years ago when her sister was first diagnosed with melanoma, in case she needed to go through chemotherapy treatments and lost her hair. Ultimately, Meghan never needed it but Meredith still donated her hair to Locks of Love, as did Jennifer.
The family support didn't end there.
Heidi Johnson, Shonda's sister, has battled with melanoma twice and attended the party as well.
"I'm not in the calendar but I support it," she said. She added that she has been spot free for five years.
The models from the calendar were more than willing to share their stories to spread awareness of the disease. Holly Hatch (Miss March) said she posed for the calendar "to show people you could get skin cancer and survive." Hatch had been diagnosed with Stage V, or black, melanoma.
Most melanoma is staged at levels 0 through IV. Stage IV melanoma has an estimated survival rate of only 20 percent.
"I'm living proof," she said. "And porcelain skin is beautiful."
Sue Phelan (Miss November) was the only one included in the calendar who hadn't had melanoma. Instead, Phelan had struggled with basal cell carcinoma. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, this is the most common form of cancer, with approximately one million new cases in the U.S. each year. Basal cells line the deepest layer of the epidermis. Basal cell carcinomas are malignant growths -- tumors -- that arise in this layer.
Phelan had nine different basal cell carcinoma sites. "This is just as dangerous [as melanoma]," she stated.
Despite the hardship that the 13 calendar models went through -- including Brittany Lietz (Miss Maryland) and Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia's wife, Kelly -- the calendar release party maintained an upbeat, optimistic atmosphere.
"I had no idea it was going to be this big," Meghan said. "Having Curt here was a big boost for us and the calendar. It's great to have so much support."
The 2008 Survivor Calendar is available online at www.shadefoundation.org. Sold for $12 each, 90 percent of the proceeds will go to the SHADE Foundation to educate women and men about proper skin care and the dangers of sun exposure. The other 10 percent will will be used for Meghan's public speaking engagements which further raise awareness of skin cancer prevention. She said she will be visiting the students of Minnechaug Regional High School at the end of November.