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Loss inspires melanoma caregiver to help others

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By Will Fitzgerald, MD Anderson staff writer

The news came while Judy Sager and her husband Jurgen were living in Scotland in 1999. Jurgen was on an overseas assignment as an engineer with an offshore drilling company, when he visited a local hospital to have a suspicious-looking mole examined.

The results soon returned: melanoma. They knew the news was not good, but remained optimistic. 

After surgery to remove the affected area, Jurgen transferred positions to be closer to home while being monitored by MD Anderson physicians.

After a year, the disease was thought to be completely removed, and, by all indications, life was improving. So, at age 40, Jurgen decided to run the Houston Marathon. 

A week after the marathon, feeling in the best shape of his life, Jurgen noticed a lump near his groin and immediately returned to MD Anderson. The melanoma was back and had spread throughout his lymph nodes. 

Melanoma treatment: An ongoing battle 
Jurgen underwent surgery and biochemotherapy, a melanoma treatment that combines standard chemotherapy and an immunotherapy agent designed to attack any remaining cancer cells.

For the next two years, Judy and Jurgen continued to raise their two sons and were determined to keep daily life as normal as possible. But when Jurgen returned to MD Anderson for routine scans, the doctors found tumors in his liver. He would have to undergo yet another surgery.

The operation was successful and after another two years, Jurgen was in remission once again. 

However, in summer 2005, he returned to the hospital after complaining of abdominal pain. 

Scans revealed the heartbreaking news: the cancer had metastasized throughout his body, including his brain.

After an incredibly valiant and heroic fight lasting eight years, Jurgen lost his battle.

Turning sorrow into hope
Like so many families left drifting in the wake of a tragic loss, contemplating a new normal, Judy recognized she had to do something to make a difference for melanoma patients.

The answer came after a phone call with Jean Schlipmann, the cofounder of an organization called the AIM at Melanoma Foundation. The group organizes 5K runs and walks across the country to raise funds for melanoma research, but they'd never had an event in Houston.

"Well, now you do," Judy said.

With the race now in its sixth year, Judy's efforts have expanded its reach from 250 participants and $30,000 raised in the first year, to 1,100 participants and $145,000 raised last year. For Judy, it's about honoring the legacy of her late husband and helping others at the same time.

Jurgen used to say, "Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

For Judy and her family, seeing all the supporters, sponsors and participants who attend the event started in Jurgen's memory, is one of those breathtaking moments 

Register online for the 2013 AIM for the Cure Melanoma Walk at MD Anderson on Saturday, Sept. 21. Learn more by calling 713-745-1804 or emailing aimforthecure@mdanderson.org.

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