Less than two years have gone by since Rachel Samitt noticed a suspicious mole under the wet hair on her dad’s sunlit scalp after a swim in the family’s Woodcliff Lake pool.
Though Mark Samitt immediately made an appointment with his dermatologist, the skin cancer his daughter saw took his life on May 6. He was 52.
Mr. Samitt’s tragic death makes this Sunday’s cut-a-thon all the more poignant — and vital. Mark the SPOT, a program he launched with his wife, Gayle, and daughters Rachel and Danielle, in partnership with the Melanoma Research Foundation, will be held at six Pascack Valley-area salons. Its goal is to teach hairstylists that “If you spot something, say something.”
Mark the SPOT educates stylists about how to identify possibly cancerous marks on their customers’ heads or necks and how to communicate their findings in a way that does not panic but encourages the customer to seek medical attention. The first salon to host a training session was Mania Hair Studio in Park Ridge. Owner Phil Mania lost his own father to melanoma at a young age.
Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer and the most common cancer in young adults, is on the rise. The American Cancer Society estimates that during 2015, 137,310 new cases of melanoma — 63,440 noninvasive (in situ) and 73,870 invasive — will be diagnosed in the United States.
Rachel Samitt chose to take on an optional senior project at Pascack Hills High School as a way of devoting more time to the cause.
“The cut-a-thon was my dad’s idea,” said Rachel, 18. “The money is going partially to awareness campaigns to teach people how to protect themselves against skin cancer, and partially to researching a cure for melanoma. My dad was involved in some clinical trials, and I learned that this research is very important.”
The entire family worked hard on planning the cut-a-thon, even as Mr. Samitt’s condition worsened. As soon as shiva ended, Gayle Samitt and her daughters got up and plunged back into the project.
“My dad really loved that we spent time together on this,” said Rachel, who is chapter president of Pascack Valley B’nai B’rith Girls and organized a dance that raised $15,000 for breast-cancer research earlier this year. “This was a passion for both of us. Until he couldn’t, he put so much into it. He was guiding me, and now it’s my place to run with it, which is kind of hard but I have to.”
“It’s hard — but it was so important to him and to us,” Danielle, 15, said. “We don’t want anyone else to deal with skin cancer; we want to prevent it so he didn’t die in vain.”
The sisters have been working as a team to increase awareness and publicize the cut-a-thon in the two Pascack Valley high schools and in area hair salons. Teachers are handing out fliers, and one even collected money from her class to contribute to the cause.
“In the past few days I’ve been making sure the participating salons have what they need and are telling their clients about it,” Danielle said. “I’ve been emailing them checklists of what to do in advance.”
Gayle Samitt said that soon after his diagnosis, her husband asked his own stylist if she would alert a client upon finding a suspicious skin marking, and she said no. She’d be afraid of causing embarrassment.
“That was the impetus for starting this,” Ms. Samitt said. “This became his passion, so that nobody would have to go through what he went through.
“He knew that stylists can play an important role in helping to detect melanoma early so that it’s treatable. He felt they are in a unique position to see areas you can’t see yourself.”
Mr. Samitt, a Harvard Business School graduate and former corporate executive who started his own management-consulting firm in 2011, found the Melanoma Research Foundation a very willing partner for Mark the SPOT.
“He was able to do a tremendous amount in the short time he had,” Gayle said. “The president of MRF, Steve Silverstein, lives here in Woodcliff Lake and he wanted Mark to serve on the board once he was well. My husband truly was an inspiration to anyone who knew him.”
Seven local salons are participating in the Mark the SPOT program: Mania Hair Studio in Park Ridge, Mairead’s Hair Salon in Hillsdale, De Beaute Grand Salon & Day Spa in Montvale, Suzanne’s Hair & Colour Room in Oradell, Michelle’s Salon in Woodcliff Lake, BBC Salon in Tenafly, and Robin’s On Broadway in Hillsdale.
The cut-a-thon will take place at all the salons except BBC on May 31 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The cost is $25 for adult haircuts and blowouts, and $15 for children under 10. Appointments are strongly encouraged.
“We want to roll it out to other salons. Our goal is to have it become a national program,” said Ms. Samitt, whose family belongs to Temple Beth Or in Washington Township.
All donations to Mark the SPOT are tax deductible and can be made via the MRF’s online donation form at www.melanoma.org/MarktheSPOT.