#WhyICare: ‘I Never Imagined a World Without His Smile’

#WhyICare: ‘I Never Imagined a World Without His Smile’

In honor of Melanoma Awareness Month, we’re sharing some #WhyICare stories that recently moved the room to tears at our Taste for a Cure Gala. First up, Debbie Gallagher Merten’s remembrance of her brother, Ronnie. Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation is so lucky to have crossed paths with Debbie. She attended one of our talks by chance – we happened to be speaking at her gym one day – and she’s been a dedicated volunteer ever since. Recently, Debbie helped to orchestrate the Cary Newcomers Club Spring Fashion Show, which raised $x,xxx for our organization.

 I care because none of us knew.

My brother Ronnie was 57, a beloved sports editor for the Salisbury Post, a community fixture, the father of two teenage sons and the husband of Joan.

He had melanoma removed from his back in 2005, but it wasn’t something he shared with my three siblings or myself. In fact, we wouldn’t learn about it until the day he died on August 30, 2013.

Ronnie’s son Jack graduated high school that June, a celebration that marked the last time most of the family saw Ronnie.

Ronnie worked that summer on the paper’s big annual football edition. But he noticed he was feeling run down. In mid-August, Ronnie started having some chest pains. It wasn’t a heart attack. A visit to the hospital revealed it was melanoma in his lungs.

Ronnie kept working.

On August 29, he worked late into the night at the paper, putting the finishing touches on the football edition. By the time those copies would hit driveways and racks, Ronnie would be dead. He was rushed to the emergency room around 4 a.m. He was throwing up blood. He died during CPR about 30 minutes after he got to the ER.

By 4 p.m., the paper had printed tribute posters to Ronnie that were posted all over town, in storefront windows and offices. It had been about 14 hours since he last reported for duty at the Salisbury Post, with none of his co-workers realizing anything was wrong.

That night was the opening of high school football. Every football game in Davie and Rowan County had a moment of silence for Ronnie. Much later, at a memorial service, all kinds of young people came up to me and told me how he’d changed their lives and helped them get into college.

I care because I had a tiny, stage 1 melanoma spot removed from my back, and I still think about it. Is it reallygone? I am mindful of this because Ronnie never went back to the dermatologist after having his melanoma removed in 2005. Our whole family gets skin checks now. People talk about silent killers. Melanoma is a very stealthy, sneak-up-on-you killer.

I care because I lost my goofy little brother. I never imagined a world without his smile.He was always smiling, always laughing. I never dreamed I’d have to support our mother through the devastation of losing her child. To this day, she can barely speak his name.

On behalf of my whole family: We love you, Ronnie. We care. And we’re going to keep fighting this disease.


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