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Twelve years ago, two much-needed organisations were founded by people who wanted to create a better experience for those diagnosed with melanoma. Back then, it was common to feel isolated and frustrated by the lack of information and support. But now it’s a very different story, thanks to the tireless efforts of both organisations.

In 2006, the frustrations of two young melanoma patients named Daniel Belcher and Brent Grace inspired them to establish Melanoma Patients Australia (MPA) to provide support, information and patient advocacy for those living with melanoma. Brent sadly passed away from melanoma and Daniel and Brent’s family took on the challenge of ensuring people should not face a diagnosis of melanoma alone through MPA.

In 2006, Adam Smiddy also passed away from an aggressive melanoma – he was a fit, fun-loving physiotherapist, aged only 26. His devastated family experienced this sense of isolation and frustration first-hand; in fact, when Adam was first diagnosed, in the absence of any melanoma brochures, he was handed information about ovarian cancer treatment.

Following his death, Adam’s close friend and triathlon coach Mark Smoothy came up with the idea of cycling from Brisbane to Townsville with two mates. 1600 kilometres later, they’d raised an impressive $24,000 for their cause.

The following year, another 22 friends joined the ride and soon the community of Smiling for Smiddy was born. Since then, under the Mater Foundation, they’ve organised 66 gruelling rides involving more than 2,100 participants.

All up, Mater Foundation through Smiling for Smiddy has contributed a staggering $9.5 million to melanoma research since the inaugural bike ride. In fact, Mater Foundation is now the largest source of non-government funding for melanoma research in Queensland and also provides financial support to MPA through a partnership agreement.

With both MPA and Smiling for Smiddy events starting at a similar time with a shared motivation to reduce the impact of melanoma, it’s no wonder they have a close connection – one that included Professor Mark Smithers, a highly respected Queensland specialist who treated Adam Smiddy during his illness. Professor Smithers has also been a long-time MPA board member.

In fact, it was Professor Smithers who first mentioned MPA to Adam’s father, David Smiddy – sadly though, the support came too late for Adam. Says David, “If only MPA had been around to support Adam, our family’s experience would have been so different.” But his own regrets are mixed with gratitude for the many families who are now so well supported.

This notion of support has been pivotal to the success of both organisations. Living with a melanoma diagnosis is tough, so a supportive team makes all the difference. MPA provides free support to people all over Australia, by offering easy-to-access individual counselling and face to face, online and telephone support groups as well as the provision of peer to peer connections.

Physical challenges, such as long-distance cycling, can be challenging and rely on the support of crew members to assist with washing, cooking meals and cheering from the sidelines. All participants are committed to Smiling for Smiddy’s values of teamwork, mateship and spirit. According to participants’ feedback, the uplifting spirit of the events attracts new cyclists each year, resulting in more vital funds being raised.

In 2013, Smiling for Smiddy moved under the umbrella of the Mater Foundation, a world-class institute whose research arm, Mater Research, invests in ground-breaking clinical and medical research. They’ve also been instrumental in developing the Queensland Melanoma Collaborative, an alliance of leading researchers and clinicians.

In the twelve years since Adam’s death, the dedication of many inspiring individuals has greatly benefited those who are impacted by melanoma. Not only have we made enormous progress with treatment options, but the growth of MPA means that people like Adam and his family no longer feel isolated and frustrated with the lack of information and support available.

However, there’s still a way to go, which is why Smiling for Smiddy’s fundraising efforts are so important. If you, or someone you know, is up for a physical challenge, then click https://www.smiddy.org.au/page/Register/ to register for the next event. You’ll join hundreds of others who share your determination to make a difference to those living with a melanoma diagnosis.

We thank the Smiling for Smiddy team for partnering with MPA in our shared vision to improve outcomes for people affected by melanoma.  It is so important that funds are raised for both research into melanoma and care for people struggling with melanoma right now.  We are very proud of our partnership with the Mater Foundation.  If you would like to donate to MPA or are in a position to consider a corporate partnership please contact us at info@melanomapatients.org.au or 1300 88 44 50.

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