Fighting Melanoma Across State Lines

July 13, 2015
After she lost her husband to the disease, Patricia Amyx turned her attention to helping others.

When melanoma took Patricia Amyx’s husband in 1998, the disease made a powerful enemy—and the John Wayne Cancer Institute made a powerful ally. Pat and her husband, James Amyx, Jr., lived in Boise, Idaho, a state with a skin cancer rate higher than the national average. His cancer was misdiagnosed as a benign cyst.

Pat Amyx, center, with son Todd Amyx and granddaughter Sydney Amyx.

By the time the melanoma was correctly diagnosed, the cancer had spread, and little information was available locally on advanced treatments. Pat called hospitals nationwide in search of help for her husband (who eventually was treated at a cancer center in the Pacific Northwest.) At the same time, their son had a friend who also was diagnosed with melanoma and was treated at the John Wayne Cancer Institute.

“Both men had been given less than a year to live,” Pat recalls. “My husband got three months and my son’s friend survived two more years.”

Seeing two people with the same disease and diagnosis have different outcomes convinced Pat of the first-rate resources in melanoma research and treatment at the Institute. After her husband passed, she and her two sons formed the Amyx Foundation, which has been a generous benefactor to the Institute in the intervening years. Her most recent donation of $100,000 will be used on an innovative program to bring the Institute’s expertise to doctors in Idaho.

"Her gift will allow us to train more physicians in the latest treatments, and that will ultimately save lives." – Dr. Mark B. Faries.

“There is going to be a one-day seminar each year for the next five years where doctors from the John Wayne Cancer Institute will come to Idaho and present information on the most promising treatments. Each year will focus on a different cancer. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m so glad we’re starting with melanoma,” Pat says.

The program will be run in conjunction with Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. “Invitations have gone out statewide to doctors in fields such as oncology, surgery, radiology and dermatology. Doctors who attend will receive continuing education credit needed for licensing,” Pat explains.

“I was extremely impressed by Pat’s desire to help improve the care of melanoma patients in her state,” says Mark B. Faries, MD, who is a professor of surgery, director of complex general surgical oncology fellowship, director of the Donald L. Morton, MD, Melanoma Research Program and director of therapeutic immunology. Dr. Faries presented the first seminar April 23. “Her gift will allow us to train more physicians in the latest treatments, and that will ultimately save lives.”

“Pat represents the kind of support we cherish at the Institute,” says Michael Avila, vice president of development for the John Wayne Cancer Institute. “She witnessed regional disparities in cancer care and decided to try to bridge that gap, even though she had lost her own husband. We’re grateful for all our donors—near and far. The Institute’s friends can be found in every part of the world.”

Of the yearly seminars in Idaho, Pat adds, “This is the dream of my life. I never would have been able to pull this off on my own, so I’m grateful to Saint Alphonsus and the John Wayne Cancer Institute. I just know that it’s important for me and the Amyx Foundation and board to know that everything that can be done is being done to cure cancer or extend life with melanoma. It’s my goal. It’s what is close to my heart because it’s taken life from my family.”