The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Family honors UI cancer patient with unique foundation and annual fundraiser

Tad Agnew died from melanoma cancer in 2012, but his memory continues to help raise money for the Holden Cancer Center in Iowa City.
File Photo
Patients check into the Holden Center on Aug. 25, 2016.

The Christopher Agnew Foundation continues to raise money for the University of Iowa Holden Cancer Center for melanoma research in memory of Christopher “Tad” Agnew, who died at 33 years old due to stage four melanoma.

The foundation’s donations increase every year at the annual Tips for Tad event and along with it their impact on melanoma research and awareness.

When he was first diagnosed with melanoma, he was going to a school at the University of Iowa as a graduate student to become an emergency medical technician. He was assigned to a level one trauma center — which provides care for someone who has sustained a traumatic injury — after his diagnosis in Des Moines to do an internship as part of his coursework at the UI.

The night before he was supposed to go into the hospital to start his internship there, he was having headaches. He’d been having headaches for about a month, but that night he threw up in his shower and knew something was wrong.

That night, he went into the hospital where he was supposed to start working the next morning and the doctors decided to do a head CT scan. The scan found two large brain lesions which were deadly.

After this terminal diagnosis, the doctors thought it was unsafe for him to drive back home to Bettendorf, Iowa, where his family lived.

He was placed in an ambulance and sent to Bettendorf late that evening and marking the start of Christopher Agnew’s melanoma journey.

He was diagnosed with stage four melanoma and melanoma that metastasized to the brain. The Agnew family did research online and made many phone calls trying to find a place best suited to treat Christopher Agnew.

They ultimately decided to get treatment at Holden Cancer Center in Iowa City with ​​Mohammed Milhem — the Holden Chair of Experimental Therapeutics and Melanoma Program Director at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center — and his melanoma team.

Christopher Agnew fought for two years through radiation chemotherapy, a clinical trial — the only clinical trial that was available at that time — and two brain surgeries in the last year of his life.

Christopher Agnew lost use of the left side of his body and was confined to a bed. He lived with his parents, Chris and Margie Agnew, in their master bedroom in Bettendorf, and was given in-home hospice care for over a year until he died on Feb. 4, 2012.

“He never complained once about ‘How come this was happening to me’ and just tried to stay positive,” Chris Agnew said. “It’s very humbling to be totally self-sufficient and all of a sudden have to be taken care of by your mom and dad for basic necessities.”

Christopher Agnew even said to his parents during his journey that he didn’t want what he was going through to go to waste, Chris Agnew said, and he wanted something good to happen from his experience.

Christopher Agnew died about a month before his birthday. His friends all got together on March 9, 2012, to celebrate his birthday, even though Christopher Agnew was gone. This was the start of the Christopher Agnew Foundation’s annual fundraiser called Tips for Tad.

That first year, Tad’s friends ordered drinks, had a birthday cake, and sang “Happy Birthday” in his memory, and celebrated his life. For every drink the friends ordered, they threw a few extra dollars in and decided to send that money to the University of Iowa’s Holden Cancer Center.

They raised around $900 that first year. This number has grown tremendously, with the 11th Tips for Tad, the most recent edition, raising $85,000 in five hours.

Every dollar raised goes directly to the cause and to Holden Cancer Center for melanoma research and clinical trials support.

The Tips for Tad event is hosted by a local board-certified dermatologist Jill Lightfoot, who volunteers her time.

She received her medical degree at the UI, and she does volunteer melanoma screenings. At the last event, she saw approximately 120 people in three-and-a-half hours and screened them for any type of skin cancer issues or skin problems.

Every year since she has found people with issues that needed follow-up treatments.

“We’re providing hope to some patients that have none,” Chris Agnew said. “And so that’s our goal is to continue to fund research and eventually be part of a long-term cure for melanoma.”

The Christopher Agnew Foundation is helping more people each year to get diagnosed as well as aid them through the journey of having melanoma.

The Christopher Agnew Foundation is made up of people who were lifelong friends and supporters of Christopher Agnew. The executive committee consists of three of Tad’s friends, Rosie Duncan, Karen Pauly, and Olivia Schmidt.

“What we’re funding is actually saving people’s lives and we’re meeting the people that it is helping,” Schmidt said. “They often speak at events, which really touches home to a lot of people and makes people want to be part of it and contribute.”

His family and friends all agree that Christopher Agnew was, at his core, a hilarious person. He always made everybody laugh and he always made everybody feel so included, Pauly said.

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“He was always positive. He just always had a smile on his face. Even when he was sick, he made it his job to make other people feel happy and inclusive,” Schmidt said. “He was just a wonderful person to be around.”

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About the Contributor
Julia Rhodes, Reporter
Julia Rhodes is a first year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications and minoring in Dance. She loves writing as well as presenting that work on screen and is hoping to be equally a Daily Iowan reporter as well as a DITV reporter. She enjoys writing about all topics from crime and politics to arts and public health.