About Us

Jessica (Vega) Rogowicz


I was first diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 24.  I had two moles removed for cosmetic reasons and was diagnosed with melanoma just three days before I turned 25 years old.  Growing up, my family vacationed at the beach every year and spent money hours in the sun.  I used tanning beds in high school occasionally and then steadily in college about 2-3 times per week.  When I used tanning beds, I never thought that I would be the one to get cancer.  Cancer happens to other people, not me.  I also believed that I was many years away from ever being at-risk of being diagnosed with cancer.  After being cancer-free, safe in the sun, and completing cutting out tanning beds, I was diagnosed four years later.   Luckily, my melanoma was caught in Stage I.  Early detection saved my life.  

After going through a lot of emotional struggles due to my cancer diagnosis, I connected with others who have been affected by melanoma and we founded The Pittsburgh Melanoma Foundation.  We hold annual fundraisers each year including a golf outing and 5k.  \Our annual donations benefit Allegheny Health Network.  I have also participated in various speaking engagements to help educate others about melanoma awareness and dangers of tanning.  


Lauren (Vavrek) Simko

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I lost my father, Joseph L. Vavrek, to stage IV melanoma in May 2010.  He was diagnosed in the summer of 2009 after what was supposed to be a routine surgery.  During removal of a cantaloupe-sized cyst, a cantaloupe-sized tumor was found, diagnosed as melanoma.  After treatment with chemotherapy that proved to be unsuccessful, my father attempted to enroll into experimental treatment at Hillman Cancer Center.  It was determined he did not qualify.  He agreed to donate blood to assist with future research on this disease on a number of occasions.

My dad passed away at home after the cancer spread throughout his internal organs and into his brain, only 10 months after diagnosis.  He began having seizures and could no longer communicate with us or hospice care.  My father was surrounded my mom, Marlene, and my two sisters, and myself when he passed.

My dad inspired me to become a pharmacist.  I currently work as the Chief Operating Officer at Esterbrook Pharmacy, LLC.  I have two children, Kealie and Layne.  I am also the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Pittsburgh Melanoma Foundation.  

Since losing my father, I see  a dermatologist regularly and have had many precancerous moles removed.  I want to increase awareness by growing the Pittsburgh Melanoma Foundation so other individuals can protect themselves from the dangers of this deadly disease.


Rose Thomas

Marissa Thomas

Patty Vavrek VanDyke

Heather Abramowicz

Katrina Barger

Brittany Peterson

Lori Costello

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In early 2010, Nick turned 21 and was an active college student working towards his degree in education at Clarion University.  In April 2010, when he started complaining of leg pain resembling sciatica, I never imagined that within weeks he would be diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma and be fighting for his life.  For 4 months, Nick underwent numerous surgeries and experimental treatments in his fight against this disease.   On September 13, 2010, Nick took his last breath and was finally free of the pain and tumors that had so aggressively taken over his young body.

Since Nick’s death, my son, Brendan, and I have made it our mission to share Nick’s fight to educate people (especially young people) about the dangers of tanning and the importance of getting regular skin checks.

Currently I work as a Solution Designer Analyst.  I have worked with the Pittsburgh Melanoma Foundation since 2012 to spread melanoma awareness in honor of Nick.

One wish…free!

Dr. Howard Edington, MD

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We had thousands of supporters attend our fundraising events when we operated under Miles Against Melanoma.  Our 2015 proceeds will benefit melanoma research at Allegheny Health Network under the direction of Dr. Howard Edington.  Dr. Edington serves as the Chairman of Surgery at Allegheny Health Network and is recognized and respected world-wide for his research efforts in the field of melanoma and surgical oncology.  Thank you to Dr. Edington, to continue to support our cause.

Dr. Edington also treated Jessica Rogowicz during her two battles with melanoma.  As he attends our events, he sees many familiar faces of patients he has treated throughout the years.  Dr. Edington is a true example of a doctor who has devoted his life to the development of melanoma awareness and treatments.



Disclaimer: Pittsburgh Melanoma Foundation is devoted to educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute professional medical care. Information provided by us should not be used for diagnosing or treating a skin problem or disease. If you have or suspect you have a skin problem please consult with a dermatologist, or other qualified professional healthcare provider.