Nancy Donovan, whose daughter died due to melanoma, is warning others about skin cancer. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 2, 2013 6:05AM
Nancy Donovan, of Palos Park, did something no mother wants to ever have to do.
Donovan set her grief aside after the death of her daughter, Meg Moonan, in 2012, at 43 years old and began fighting the popular concept of the “healthy glow” of a suntan and promoting quality medical care for melanoma patients in the south suburbs. She did this so others would be spared her family’s experience.
“Our family was devastated by this,” Donovan said. “We are still devastated. We are very, very sad.”
Moonan left behind a husband, Ken, and their four children: Luke, 15; Ellen, 12; Will, 9; and Marty, 4, as well as four siblings with families: Mary Pat McGeehan, 46, Palos Heights; Tim Donovan, 45, Beverly; Maureen Kovac, 44, Orland Park, and Bill Donovan, 39, Chicago.
At the six-month mark of Moonan’s death, her family and friends continued to grieve heavily over their loss.
That’s when Donovan decided something needed to change, and she said so at a family gathering.
“We’re all here and we’re crying and we’re sad, but maybe we can turn things around a little bit if we do something positive,” Donovan said.
The opportunity came when Moonan’s family learned that Dr. Adam Riker at Christ Hospital Medical Center in Oak Lawn, was in the beginning stages of a melanoma program.
Donovan said the family had become painfully aware of how little access to quality medical care was available for melanoma patients in the south suburbs.
During her illness, Moonan traveled to Advocate Lutheran General in Park Ridge for treatment by the “guru of melanoma,” Dr. Jon Richards, Donovan said. In addition to her treatments, Moonan had 14 hospital stays in her 19-month battle.
The family wanted “nothing but the best of care” for Moonan, but there was a price.
“Many times, Meg was so sick that the trip was quite hard on her,” Donovan said.
So, when the family learned about Riker’s program, they decided to raise money to support it.
“We were happy we had this opportunity so people on the South Side would have the opportunity to go to a hospital closer to home,” Donovan said. “We just couldn’t pass it up.”
Meredith McGuffage, Moonan’s cousin, was “the brains” behind March 4 Meg, a 5K run/walk fundraiser, Donovan said.
McGuffage believed, as Donovan did, that the family could “pull off” the event in time for the one-year anniversary of Meg’s death on March 30, six months from the time their decision was made.
Donovan said they knew that coordinating the event on their own with no help from national organizations and no fundraising experience was a risk, but the upside to the situation made it more appealing.
“The beauty of it was we would have control over the (funds raised),” Donovan said, and she knew Moonan would have approved.
“More than anyone else I know,” Donovan said. “I know she’s happy about this.”
Donovan said the family was “hoping for 300” entrants, but it blossomed into a nearly 1,600-person event, raising $30,000 for the hospital and founding the Meg Moonan Endowment Fund for melanoma research.
The plan, Donovan said, is to continue the run/walk annually. The next event is scheduled for March 29, 2014.
In the meantime, Donovan has been tackling education and awareness and is making herself available to organizations in the Chicago area.
Using her skills as a retired nurse educator from St. Xavier University, Donovan researched and developed a program for children, “Sun Safety,” recently instructing 140 youngsters at the Evergreen Park Day Camp.
“It’s opening the door,” Donovan said.
Although her message is a positive one it’s also realistic, Donovan said.
But it’s not all about the sun.
Donovan teaches that knowing one’s family history is important as well.
Although Moonan took precautionary measures for sun safety for herself and her children, she still succumbed to melanoma, Donovan said, possibly because of genetics.
Two of Moonan’s maternal aunts had melanoma, and Moonan’s twin sister, Maureen, also had an early stage melanoma.
“When Meg was sick, we all had to go to the dermatologist and luckily they found (Maureen’s) early,” Donovan said.
Donovan promotes annual visits to the dermatologist for everyone, knowing one’s risk factors, and using sun screen products appropriately.
The message she would like to send to young people, especially because melanoma is “the No. 1 cancer in the 20 to 25 age group,” Donovan said, is that they should see tanning in a different way.
Donovan said the look of a tan can be achieved using a cosmetic “bronzer” rather than dangerous sun rays or tanning beds.
“I emphasize that a tan is not beautiful,” Donovan said. “We need to quit equating tanning with beauty.”
For more information, go to www.march4meg.com or contact Nancy Donovan, (708) 671-0657 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.