By: Mark I. Zimmerman, MD, Founding President Enright Melanoma Foundation
On the 20th anniversary of the Enright Melanoma Foundation, I’m retelling the story of a friend I lost over 20 years ago to rekindle the passion of a foundation that continues to work in his name.
It started with four of us…
Rich Nelson and Peter Colucio were young physicians at the Summit Medical Group (NJ) when Joe Enright and I joined them in 1991. The four of us quickly became friends. Pete was a confirmed bachelor (and scratch golfer), and Rich, Joe and I were married with growing families. We ate lunch together, we played golf, and we often met up at Joe and his wife Kathy’s house for birthdays and barbecues. While Joe coordinated what he fondly called “male bonding weekends”, our wives often took a “spa” vacation together. Life was good.
Shelley, Joe’s 3-year-old daughter, scratched a mole on Joe, which bled. He saw his physician and the biopsy revealed melanoma. Joe went back for the “wide and deep” surgery that was hopefully going to remove all of the melanoma. It didn’t. Over time, while life continued and little Shelley got a new brother Nicholas, we learned the melanoma had metastasized.
Joe and Kathy went to MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston for what was the most promising treatment option at that time – interferon. To support him, I collected the signatures of close to 500 coworkers on a “get well soon” banner and Rich and I flew to Houston to be with our friend. While he went through a brutal interferon treatment, we watched the Superbowl together. Even as physicians, it was painful for us to see what this treatment was doing to our friend.
When Joe came home, it was clear that he only had a short time left. The four of us played a final round of golf even though Joe could barely hold a club, but he never complained. I arranged for a “make-a-wish” type of event and we met one of Joe’s favorite teams, the New York Rangers. Joe took pictures with his favorite players (including Mark Messier!) and got a hockey stick signed by the players. It was great to see a moment of joy on the face of my friend who was rapidly losing weight, and his battle.
Through it all, Joe maintained his courage and what appeared to be an inner peace. He never gave up, and he would not let the melanoma define him. My last memory of Joe was of him lying on his couch and apologizing to me for “not getting up and seeing me to the door” when it was time for me to leave. We lost Joe in 1996. Joe’s death was devastating to me. I had experience dealing with death as a physician, but I had never lost someone as close to me as a brother.
I thought about the things I learned from Joe – his loyalty, courage, dedication, calm demeanor, his love of family and friends, stoicism, and his love of life. But it was the quirky things that have stuck with me. Joe taught me…
- It is okay not to shave every day.
- You don’t have to wear a tie all the time.
- It’s okay to leave your wallet in the car and let your friends pay for lunch!
Joe was loved by his family, friends and patients and I wanted the world to remember him. I wanted his children to grow up and learn about who their father was and what he meant to his friends and coworkers. And most of all, I wanted to do something so that no one else would lose someone in the prime of their life from something that is both preventable and curable if caught early enough.
Rich and I, along with co-workers at the Summit Medical Group, started the Joseph E. Enright Foundation in 1999 to raise funds to contribute to worthy causes in Joe’s name. Over the past 20 years, our passionate Board of Trustees has evolved and we have narrowed our focus and the redefined Enright Melanoma Foundation’s vision—to live in a world free of melanoma. Our mission is to raise sun-safety awareness and help prevent melanoma through education and early detection.
Over the years, the Foundation has held a variety of fund-raising events including golf outings and bike treks. Joe’s mom, Catherine, has always been at these events and was my “walking” partner. She could not have been prouder of the work the Foundation had done which in some way, had eased the pain of losing her son.
Everyone involved with the Enright Melanoma Foundation has been touched by this devastating illness in some way. We understand the need to be vigilant, both in terms of sun protection and skin checks. Since starting this foundation, my own father has had four separate melanomas removed simply because of my insistence on a skin exam.
Our ask is that you become an advocate for your friends, family, teammates and coworkers – become a free member of our foundation, take our sun safety course, do business with our sponsors and business partners, donate time and money, network and spread our message. Help prevent this from happening to someone you know and love.
To learn more about the Enright Melanoma Foundation, please watch the 20th anniversary video below, then visit: www.enrightmelanomafoundation.org/.