In early 2004, Patricia Schellhardt Malone had a mole on her leg that was changing in appearance. Unfortunately, she chose not to have it checked right away. By the time she had it removed later that year, she was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. After fighting the disease for 2 1/2 years, she lost her battle on June 21, 2007.

“We, as a family, didn’t know what melanoma was when we found out that she had this advanced skin cancer,” says Maria Schellhardt, who is one of Malone’s eight children. “In fact, we started to realize just how little funding, research and awareness there was with melanoma—even though so many people were dying from it. So, my sisters and brothers and I decided to form an organization—we already had a built-in board. We had eight people with various contacts and skills—it just didn’t make sense for us not to do something.”

In June 2007, Our M.O.M. Inc. (Our Mark on Melanoma) was born. “It is the ultimate labor of love,” notes Schellhardt’s sister, Elizabeth Shocklee, chair of the Our M.O.M. board. “We all volunteer 100 percent of our time to the cause—and we have successfully raised more than $250,000. We also have established a fully endowed research fund at Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation (The Our M.O.M. Inc. Melanoma Research Fund in Memory of Patricia Schellhardt Malone). And we have achieved all of this in five short years.”

Schellhardt, who serves as secretary, explains that the nonprofit began with three goals: to prevent, to detect and to cure. “Melanoma is the fastest-growing cancer in the U.S. and worldwide. Prevention—and sunscreen—is extremely important for people with increased risk factors. The lighter your skin, hair and eyes and the more freckles and moles you have, the more susceptible you are to developing skin cancer,” she says. “We also want to get the word out on knowing your skin and getting it checked regularly so it doesn’t take a loss for people to understand how serious this disease is.”

Regarding a cure, Schellhardt indicates that the FDA approval of two drugs, Yervoy and Zelboraf, has helped to make great strides in treating melanoma patients. “Researchers are working diligently, but melanoma has the most mutations of any cancer—and that’s due to the sun hitting the skin and causing all these cells to grow and divide and then mutations appear,” she notes. “So for doctors to understand all those mutations and to develop a treatment is extremely difficult.” Along with supporting research, Our M.O.M. continues to educate the community by participating in symposiums at Barnes- Jewish Hospital/Siteman Cancer Center and speaking at local high schools. “We are currently developing a program that encourages teens to wear sunscreen and to stay out of tanning beds, as well as educating them on how to do a self-skin exam,” Shocklee says. “Of course, we also hope to continue to grow our annual Miles Over Melanoma walk, which we hold the Saturday before Mother’s Day each year.”

When asked about their mom, Schellhardt says, “Supermom is the perfect word to describe her. Our dad died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm in 1982, and she was left to raise eight children from the ages of 2 to 17. She did not miss a beat taking care of us and instilled in us hard work, respect and dedication. She taught us to work together and help other people and that is exactly the basis of what Our M.O.M is.”


Volunteer: Megan Conner

Megan Conner met Maria Schellhardt, a daughter of Patricia Schellhardt Malone, when the two were freshmen in high school in 1991. Conner and Schellhardt quickly became best friends, and Conner grew to love Malone as somewhat of a second mother. “They are just one of the most amazing families I’ve ever been around, and Patricia was the center of it—everyone gravitated toward her,” says Conner, who has served as a volunteer with Our M.O.M. since its beginning. “They’ve always treated me like I was a part of the family. It was just a natural thing for me to become a part of this organization.”

Despite Conner’s personal involvement, she truly comprehends the importance of Our M.O.M. in increasing melanoma awareness. “Before this, I thought that skin cancer was something that could be dealt with—that could be cut out. I didn’t know how deadly it was,” she explains. “I grew up going to tanning beds and had many severe sunburns when I was younger, and I’m very afraid for the people who continue to do this.” Conner adds that by getting the word out, people hopefully will understand that certain actions can help with prevention and detection. “We’re reaching out to high school students, construction workers and to different groups to let them know the dangers of the sun—because if it’s caught early, it’s manageable,” she says. “I just know with my own family and friends, it has directly impacted us, and my parents are now going to dermatologists and getting moles removed that they probably wouldn’t have without this knowledge.”

Each May, Conner enjoys volunteering and participating in the Our M.O.M. Miles Over Melanoma walk. “I love seeing the groups that come out and walk for a fighter or for someone who has passed away. The feedback has been so positive. So many tell us how they would never miss it!”