The Biggane Foundation takes aim at tanning beds
Fifteen years ago, the Biggane family was devastated when their beautiful daughter, Mollie, passed away at the age of 20 from melanoma. She had noticed a spot of the back of her leg that began to change, but by the time the diagnosis was made, the aggressive cancer had taken her life. Determined not to let this happen to anyone else, Jack and Maggie Biggane began their crusade. A grass roots movement took hold and now the Mollie Biggane Foundation has grown from a local organization to a national and worldwide foundation bringing its message of skin cancer prevention while saving lives along the way. Their PSA announcements and ads are ubiquitous, on trains, buses, cabs, in magazines and on the radio from Manhattan to the Hamptons.
Holding their annual golf and dinner fundraiser at the Garden City Country Club, 275 people attended the event, many of them close friends of the Bigganes who remembered Mollie.
“I knew Mollie as a child. She was my daughter’s good friend and we don’t want what happened to Mollie to ever happen to another family,” recalled 15-year board member Deborah Hussey. “The board has worked hard with the Biggane family to [achieve awareness about this issue]. This outing helps us realize the funds that will reach those goals. We send videos to schools all around the nation, we have transcribed our educational materials into French and Spanish and we are now global. We have symposiums at hospitals for nursing staffs. While nurses can check the skin for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus they don’t always know how to identify melanoma so as long as they are looking, we have symposiums that instruct them how to look for it.”
Maggie Biggane, who was busy putting the last-minute touches on the silent auction items, shared what the organization is doing lately.
“The Free Killer Tan was a PSA initiative that went socially through the Internet and hit millions of people around the world. Rates of melanoma are increasing among young women because of tanning beds so we really wanted to hit that market,” she said. “We also want to hit the hospitals with more nursing education programs. What we have noticed is that now more opportunities come to us rather than us seeking them out. The Free Killer Tan was done pro bono by the Manhattan-based advertising agency Area 23.”
Greeting the many guests in the outdoor cocktail hour, Jack Biggane discussed the success of their latest initiative.
“The speaker tonight is Tim Hawkey, the executive creative director from Area 23 who did a pro bono ad for us that went viral, which we will show tonight,” he sad. “A Canadian company that owns billboards in Times Square saw this on TV and did a pro bono offering to us for a month with a 70-foot screen on 45th and Broadway during the summer which attracted a lot of attention.”
Hawkey had just lost his aunt at the age of 57 to melanoma and made it his mission to do something about it. In summer 2014, Hawkey noticed one of the Mollie Biggane “Have you checked your skin for cancer” cards. He contacted Jack Biggane and told him he lost someone very close to him because of melanoma and wanted to help their cause by offering his services to get the message out. While brainstorming with his staff, 27-year-old Oregon native Laura Coalwell came up with “A Free Killer Tan.”
“In the middle of November when it was freezing cold we set up a fake tanning salon and offered a free tan. From outside it looked like a brand new salon with logos,” Coalwell said. “When they came in, we had fake tanning products and were greeted by a receptionist. Outside they were handing out fliers to come in for a free tan to the new tanning salon. We had security cameras outside and when they came in we gave them an appointment, took a picture for their before and after shots, gave them a towel and goggles. As they walked back to the tanning both they open up the curtain and walk into their own funeral. Their picture was in the coffin. We had actors in the pews mourning, an organ playing.”
The people were all shocked and as then walked forward Dr. Hale, a board certified dermatologist from Sloan Kettering explained what was going on and how many young people die from melanoma, caused by tanning beds.
Hawkey encouraged the audience to donate generously and bid high on the live auction items. One of the top items was the honor of being named in a Nelson DeMille book. The starting bid was $5,000 set by DeMille, who knew Mollie. The outing, dinner and auction items brought in $100,000. The village of Garden City came together again that night to keep the mission of Mollie’s Fund going and growing and to remember one of their own.
To learn more about Mollie’s fund go to www.molliesfund.org and to view A Free Killer Tan go to www.freekillrtan.com.