DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE - CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED MEDICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS
Sam and Valerie
Sam and Valerie

Valerie Guild, one of the most well-known and distinguished advocates for melanoma research, passed away on 21 May 2020 from complications from cancer. Val fought tirelessly to educate the public about melanoma and was a visionary leader who often brought together disparate groups and ideas in order to successfully move the needle on melanoma research.

In order to understand Val’s commitment to melanoma research, one first needs to understand her motivation. Charlie, Val’s daughter, passed away from melanoma at only 26 years old. Charlie’s illness deeply affected her mother, her father, and her sisters, Sam and Alex. Despite Val and her family’s support and best efforts, they were continuously told that treatments for melanoma did not exist and they soon discovered that the lack of interaction and communication among physicians and researchers in the field hindered the collaboration that the field needed to move forward. Val and her family did not accept the grim reality that was presented to them; instead, choosing to immediately attack the problem head on. Val became Charlie’s unrelenting advocate, encouraging Charlie to live her life on her own terms, while Val worked tirelessly to manage her treatments.  

When Charlie passed, Val made it her mission in life to tackle the problems plaguing melanoma research. Val channeled her grief into a “fierce determination” which, over her lifetime, allowed her to transform the world of melanoma research and to provide support and information to patients and families suffering from melanoma. In 2004, Val and her daughter Sam created the Charlie Guild Melanoma Foundation, which later became the AIM at Melanoma Foundation. The foundation spoke to melanoma experts to determine what was needed to make substantial strides in finding a cure. When Val learned that researchers needed tumor tissues in order to conduct reproducible research and that there was no centralized location where providers, patients, and researchers could deposit samples, AIM at Melanoma established the first fully annotated and collaborative fresh-frozen primary tissue bank for melanoma research, which will be open to public and private medical researchers worldwide, a critical resource that the research community needs. Val was also a huge proponent of supporting families and patients with melanoma. She often remarked that educational and advocacy information were very important to the mission and vision of AIM, because when Charlie was diagnosed, she searched in vain for similar resources and information, and Val never wanted any other patients or families to feel similar despair. As a result, the AIM website is regularly updated with research highlights, educational material, and advocacy resources, leading it to become an incredibly valuable resource in the community. 

Since the inception of the AIM at Melanoma Foundation, Val expanded her advocacy and outreach efforts to further push the melanoma field toward finding a cure. In fiscal year 2009 (FY09), due to the untiring efforts of Val and other advocates, Congress included melanoma and other skin cancers as a topic area under the Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program (PRCRP). The PRCRP supported melanoma research for nearly 10 years, when in FY19, Val, alongside other advocates, convinced Congress to provide a $10 million appropriation to form the Melanoma Research Program (MRP). The MRP has since invested in research focusing on the prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of melanoma for the benefit of Service members, Veterans, their families, and the American public. Val served as a Stakeholder and Programmatic Panel member for the PRCRP in FY09 and she again served as a Programmatic Panel member for the MRP in FY19. Some thoughts about Val Guild from the MRP Team and FY20 Programmatic Panel members: 

Donna M. Kimbark, Ph.D. (MRP and PRCRP Program Manager): Meeting Val for the first time long ago during the PRCRP Stakeholders Meeting, I knew that I’d met someone fierce and strong in her pursuit of answers in the field of melanoma. Not only was she dedicated to research that would help patients, clinicians, and scientists, but she focused especially on the relevance to military health. She was one of the first advocates for PRCRP that emphasized how important it was to understand the effects of a cancer diagnosis on military health and welfare. I learned a great deal from her throughout the years. I will miss her guiding hand.” 

Samantha Guild (AIM at Melanoma): Valerie Guild was an inspiration for so many people: the AIM at Melanoma staff, the research community, and countless patients and families in the melanoma world. She was a visionary leader who did her work with intelligence, humor, integrity, and passion. She was also my mother, and I was so lucky to work with her at AIM for the last 12 years. I take over as president knowing I have tremendous shoes to fill, but also knowing she trained me to be up to the challenge. Our staff will continue her work in her memory, with an absolute resolve, as she had, to help find the cure for melanoma in our lifetime.”  

John Kirkwood, M.D. (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), FY19-FY20 Programmatic Chair:Val was and remains an inspiration to all of us in the field–an exponent of patients with melanoma worldwide, dedicated to bringing investigators and industry to the table to accelerate progress. She was thrilled to have seen and been a part of the transformation of the field and understood how much there remains to be done.” 

Keith Flaherty, M.D. (Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital): Valerie was a tireless, no-nonsense, laser-focused advocate for team science and collaboration in the melanoma field, urging us to leave our well-worn paths and to stay focused on those left behind despite our advances. We need to stare steadfastly at the portion of the glass that remains unfilled, as Valerie always reminded us to do.” 

Sapna Patel, M.D. (M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas): I met Val Guild around 2012 at ASCO and was intimidated…there she was, mingling with the “big boys” of melanoma and keeping them rapt in attention. She quickly became a friend and mentor to me, and I have many memories of sharing an Uber or airport lounge time with her, discussing an array of topics, both personal and professional. She has left an imprint on my life and our melanoma community, and we are all better for having had time in her orbit.” 

Ze’ev Ronai, Ph.D. (Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, La Jolla): Valerie reminded us how important it is for us to continue to do what we do, and to do so together. She reminded us of the many questions that are yet to be answered, while having constant faith in what we do, urging us all to continue advancing our understanding of melanoma so that we can offer new options for therapy. Her faith, wisdom, and enthusiasm will keep driving us to fulfil this mission tirelessly.” 

Steve Silverstein (Melanoma Research Foundation): So sorry to hear of this sad news. Val was such an inspiring force of nature in her quest to help others in the battle against melanoma. Her efforts and remarkable achievements have tremendously helped the whole melanoma community. Val's drive and energy was boundless as she pursued, with great passion, the goals of helping others through the disease. Our community has lost a great hero, leaving us to follow her fine and productive example. She will be missed.”

Valerie Guild (far right) with her family
Valerie Guild (far right) with her family

Last updated Friday, July 24, 2020