After his oncologist reminded him this year that he had beat cancer, Neil Gaines, 33, had an epiphany: He finally realized it was time to put the cancer, and one of the toughest spans in his young life, behind him.
“I just had a moment of clarity. I don’t want to have my life revolve around melanoma or cancer and cancer stories,” Gaines said. “We’ve been able to raise money toward that but, when he said that, I was just like, ‘That sounds awesome. I would love to move forward and move on.’
He’s moving on after a good, long fight to help fight the cancer that was a part of his life for most of the past 10 years.
“It definitely made me who I am, going through that, as it would with any other cancer patients or survivors,” Gaines said, “but it’s also a really blessed feeling to move on and start focusing on family and work and just life in general.”
He’s spent every year since he was diagnosed with melanoma in 2008 hosting a fundraiser event, MelaNoMo’!, at his family cabin on the Chattahoochee River at 800 Megan Drive in Cleveland. After raising over $140,000 during that time, this year’s event, planned for 5-9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, will be the final fundraiser.
He’s hoping to make it over the $150,000 mark.
“We just did this to raise money to go toward funding for melanoma research, but also to gather awareness about melanoma and skin cancer,” Gaines said. “When I was originally diagnosed, I didn’t even know what it was. I didn't know anything about melanoma.”
The 10th and final event will feature music by mountain-rock band Jupiter Coyote from 6-8 p.m. Johnny’s Barbecue and Tap It will be there, too. Tickets are available for $50 online in advance, but can also be purchased at the door. Gaines is expecting 75-125 people at the fundraiser.
“I started (MelaNoMo’!) while I was undergoing treatment,” Gaines said. “Then I was cancer free, but it came back in remission. So, three out of the 10 events, I was going through treatment at the time.”
Gaines had multiple surgeries to remove the cancer, but he eventually came out on the other side of the disease and continued hosting the fundraiser in order to spread awareness.
He said it’s been funny seeing his life change along with those around him over the past 10 years has been. At the first MelaNoMo’! fundraiser, Gaines said “there were just dogs everywhere” running around with their owners. As the years have gone by, that scene has been replaced with children running around with their parents.
“The first year was just to kind of have a get-together, a fun thing, to do something toward this disease, because I felt helpless,” Gaines said. “I felt the need to do something, so I thought, ‘Let’s just get together with friends and family and have a small event.’ It was such a good response that first year that people in the community kept asking to do it again.”
This year, though, with the event being later in the evening than usual, Gaines said it’s more geared for adults.
Making 2018 the last year of the fundraiser was a hard decision, but Gaines and his wife, Margaret, have two daughters now and life has gotten increasingly busy since he was diagnosed. After his epiphany with the oncologist, he knew it was the right time.
“Ten years felt like a good place,” Gaines said. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of support … and we’ll always be supportive of Emory and melanoma research.”