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Great Expectations for Melanoma Research with Great Valley High School Field Hockey Team Raising Vital Funds

Patriots put the spotlight on melanoma with charity games

Against a crisp fall night sky, the Great Valley Patriots field hockey team passed and struck against the visiting West Chester East Vikings. The Great Valley Patriots peered through their face masks bringing their never-give-up attitude to do their best on the field and off. However, this particular game day was special, because in addition to playing for each other, these girls were also playing for something more.

For the second year in a row, the varsity and junior varsity girls field hockey team, from Malvern, Pa., held a melanoma awareness doubleheader game to raise funds for cancer research at The Wistar Institute. In 2017, they raised $1,100 and spread word to their community about the dangers of melanoma, the most serious and deadliest of all skin cancers. Though it counts for less than one percent of skin cancer diagnoses, melanoma contributes to the majority of skin cancer deaths, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. It was estimated that 9,370 people will die from this form of skin cancer in 2017 alone. The main risk factor for melanoma is long-term sun exposure, which eventually results in changes to our genes.

The Great Valley Patriot field hockey team are a force to be reckoned with—14 and 8 during the regular season, 4th place in the District tournament, with a fierce showing at State Championships. They are just as capable and tenacious off the field, especially with the support of their parents and the community—their biggest fans. Husband and wife Rich and Ann Beston are one such family. Fans of their daughter Shannon, a varsity field hockey defender, they know all too well the potential danger melanoma can become if it is found at a late stage and the disease has spread. Rich was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma in January 2000.

“After Rich’s diagnosis, we needed to connect with other people living with melanoma so we could support one another and bounce ideas off each other concerning best treatment, top doctors, or to find out more about the latest research,” said Ann Beston. “The Melanoma Research Foundation had a bulletin board that connected survivors and their families all around the world, so we started there. Eventually, I created my own support group so people could connect locally with others and have somebody to talk to. That group grew, met monthly and in 2001, we had 44 members and that’s where I met Kate O’Neill and her mother Eleanor.”

The Bestons and the O’Neills developed a strong friendship that resulted in Rich and Ann joining the board of the Noreen O’Neill Foundation for Melanoma Research (NOFMR), named for Noreen O’Neill, sister to Kate and daughter of Eleanor, who had passed away in 2000 from melanoma.

“Through Kate and Eleanor, we learned about innovative melanoma research happening at The Wistar Institute and got to meet Dr. Meenhard Herlyn, a top melanoma scientist,” said Ann.

The Bestons took part in NOFMR’s Running for Cover, a five-mile run and walk around the Wells Fargo Center, and would continue supporting Wistar science over the next decade.

Fast forward to 2016: Shannon, a junior at Great Valley High School and a field hockey defender, grew up knowing how important sun protection is, especially during long hours playing or practicing on the field.

“My teammates always saw me putting on sunscreen during practice and knew I was the one to go to if ever they needed it,” said Shannon. “Our team had been talking about holding a charity game to benefit a cause, but we didn’t have a specific one in mind. It dawned on me then that melanoma should be our cause. We’re always playing under the hot sun and our families come out to games and spend hours in the sun, so melanoma really does apply to us. Besides, awareness and prevention are crucial for this type of cancer and we thought we could really do our part.”

Great Valley Boosters, the fundraising arm of the field hockey team, helped the girls quickly organize their first ever charity game in 2016. In 2017, they got to visit The Wistar Institute and learn firsthand about the research taking place.

“We took a field trip to Wistar, toured the melanoma labs and gained a much better understanding of melanoma research and how our fundraising dollars made a difference,” said Shannon. “My teammates know all the statistics [for melanoma] and can quickly and effectively talk to people and spread the message of sun safety.”

During 2017’s doubleheader under the lights both Great Valley JV and varsity teams won the games, but really all four teams won because of their support for melanoma awareness and research.

“Everyone is familiar with melanoma and understands what the night is about,” said Ann. “Melanoma awareness makes everyone mindful of their skin and how to protect it from the sun. During the game, we have ‘in memory of’ and ‘in honor of’ plaques with the names of people who have passed away or those fighting melanoma. We also give the ‘boot to cancer’ and pass around a black rain boot to collect donations…So many people have been affected by melanoma and they have their own stories to tell.”