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MelanomaPatient StoriesPediatric Cancer

Leah’s Story: How One Girl with Melanoma Created a Platform

Leah Valles, age 12, is an inspiration every day. After her hard battle with stage III melanoma, she decided that people just don’t know that skin cancer is deadly, that it can be prevented, and that it is the fastest growing cancer among teens and young adults.
August 2015 Vol 1 No 4
Jenny Valles

At age 8, Leah discovered a tiny bump on her thigh. She saw 2 dermatologists, who thought it was a wart and recommended watching and waiting.

After months of searching for answers, Leah was diagnosed with stage III melanoma. She had had 6 invasive surgeries, many hospitalizations, and daily chemotherapy for a long period at a time.

Spreading Skin Cancer Awareness

Determined to spread awareness, Leah decided she was going to help educate others about the simple steps they can take to help prevent skin cancer.

She said, “We need to tell them, so that we can save their lives!” She was 10. Leah started skincancerstinks.org to educate the world. She is on a mission to let everyone know that 90% of skin cancers can be prevented by sun protection.

In the past year, she has been brave and has educated individuals and large groups of people. She has raised more than $9,000 to help the Children’s Cancer Research Fund in 5 weeks, with the help of her 2 brothers, Bryce and Dylan.

She also helped launch the website www.skincancerstinks.org. It all started with a 10-year-old’s hope to help save lives, and a T-shirt she created that says, “Sunblock Stinks? Cancer Stinks More!” You can buy this T-shirt on her website and help spread her message.

Leah has gained the support of Leonard Sender, MD, Medical Director of the Hyundai Cancer Institute at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, CA; the Seventy K organization; and the University of California Irvine Health, as well as the support of several celebrities.

Some of the events Leah has participated in during the past year to help educate and save lives are:

March 2014: Leah ran a 5K run, had a team of 35 people, raised more than $3,300 for the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer, and created “the shirt” for her team.

April 2014: Leah received an autographed boogie board on stage, and received support in spreading her message from her hero, Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack and inspired the movie “Soul Surfer.”

May 2014: Leah ran the 5K Revlon Run for Breast Cancer wearing her T-shirt. A woman noticed the message on her shirt and finished beside her. Leah told her about skin cancer. Six months after listening to Leah’s story, the woman e-mailed us that because of Leah’s shirt message, she urged her husband to go to the doctor, and he was diagnosed with an aggressive, stage III melanoma. After surgeries and treatment, she e-mailed us that he survived because Leah’s message was heard, and his cancer was caught just in time. A life was saved—probably the single most important thing that will happen in our lives! Leah saw that her work does make a difference.

Summer 2014: Leah and her Girl Scout troop joined the John Wayne Cancer Foundation’s Block the Blaze program. Leah spoke to hundreds of junior lifeguards about the importance of sun protection and skin cancer. Over the summer Leah met and received support from numerous caring celebrities (see skincancerstinks.org).

March 2015: Leah had a team of 100 people at the Michael Hoefflin Run for Children’s Cancer. She raised more than $5,500 in 3 weeks.

July 3-4, 2015: Leah and Skin Cancer Stinks teamed up with Roy’s Run for Christopher, in honor of Christopher Wilke. Roy ran 100 miles in 24 hours from the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, where Leah asked Jordan Fisher from Disney’s “Teen Beach” movie to join her in delivering gifts to the children on the oncology floor where she was treated. She ran the first 3 miles and the last 3 miles to honor Christopher, support the Michael Hoefflin Foundation, and raise skin cancer awareness. Together, they raised more than $9,000 for the foundation at the event, and they’re still hoping to raise more.

August-September 2015: Leah is selling her shirts and hats on her website to give 100% of the net proceeds to the Hyundai Cancer Institute at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County and the Michael Hoefflin Foundation. For every shirt that is purchased, she will select a toy to send to the Hyundai Cancer Institute to help distract kids during their cancer treatments, and spread her message.

Visit skincancerstinks.org to read more about Leah, her mission, and see pictures of all the wonderful people and celebrities who support spreading her message.

Patient Resources

Skin Cancer Stinks
http://www.skincancerstinks.org

Seventy K: Improving Survival Rates for Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer
http://seventyk.com/

Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer
http://www.mhf.org/

John Wayne Cancer Foundation’s Block the Blaze Program
http://johnwayne.org/blocktheblaze/

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