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Neil Gaines’ life was turned upside down by a small mole

But 4 years later, he’s going strong

POSTED: October 16, 2012 1:30 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Neil and Margaret Gaines spend time with their newborn baby, Annie Kate. Neil Gaines was diagnosed with melanoma at age 23, just after he finished college. His melanoma research fundraiser, MelaNOMO, has raised more than $70,000 since 2008, the year he was diagnosed. This year, the goal is to raise $25,000 and more awareness.

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Neil Gaines was a college graduate looking forward to beginning his career when an odd-shaped mole on his back changed everything.

Gaines was diagnosed with stage 3a melanoma and began an on-and-off battle with cancer that would develop into stage 4 melanoma.

"As you can imagine, it was pretty shocking to hear at age 23. ... I got hit with a curve ball pretty early in life," Gaines said.

According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, melanoma is one of most serious types of skin cancer and can be the most deadly. It’s also the most common form of cancer for people between the ages of 25 and 29.

After four years on a "roller coaster of emotions" that took him through five surgeries and cancer treatments that made him feel ill, Gaines, now 27, has no evidence of the disease.

He said the most important thing when battling the disease is to find something positive to focus on.

For him, it was family.

During one of his cancer-free periods in 2010, Gaines married his wife, Margaret. The couple recently had their first child, daughter Annie Kate. Her birth coincided almost to the day with Neil being a full year cancer free.

"The only way we knew we’d get through this was with a positive outlook. You just can’t do it with a negative mindset. There is just no way, it’s hard enough as it is," Neil said.

Margaret Gaines was riding the same roller coaster, but said Neil’s optimistic attitude kept her strong.

"The reason I stayed so strong and positive was because of Neil’s attitude. Just seeing his positive attitude, and he never thought twice about not beating his cancer. That gave me more of an optimistic attitude," Margaret said.

Neil has been cancer free for a year and a half and said he’s happy just to take in all that life has to offer.

"Cancer is associated with such a negative darkness. You hear cancer and you think death. But we just didn’t let that enter our heads. We just tried to stay positive. Even if that meant having a weird sense of humor sometimes," Neil said.

He writes about his experience with skin cancer on his blog, "Diet Cancer, The Lighter Side of Cancer." He also holds an annual fundraiser for melanoma research called "MelaNOMO’!," a play on the slang for "no more."

The fourth annual MelaNOMO’! will be held on Saturday on his family’s property along the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Cleveland.

Neil said the event is an effort to raise both money and awareness about the disease.

He said there just isn’t as much awareness for skin cancer as there is for other cancers, but he hopes the fundraiser will help change that.

The "laid-back atmosphere and good times" fundraiser will feature live bluegrass music, drinks and barbecue. All proceeds from this year’s event will go to help fund melanoma treatment research at Emory University Winship Cancer Institute. The goal is to raise $25,000 at this year’s event. The event has raised nearly $70,000 for melanoma research in all four years.

Neil said he was grateful for the nurses and doctors at the institute for getting him the right treatment. "The whole purpose of this, is that there is such a lack of treatment options for people with metastatic melanoma," Margaret said.

"Basically, all of this money is going to research to try and come up with some alternative medicines, because nothing right now is showing huge success like there are in other cancers."

Neil said the fundraiser was inspired by another melanoma fundraiser, but he wanted to give his fundraiser a more positive tone.

"It’s just one way to look at it. Hopefully people will see MelaNOMO’! and it’ll put a smile on their face instead of hearing the word melanoma."

 



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