My Story: For Dean Hedstrom

This My Story is told by Kris Hedstrom in honor of her late husband Dean Hedstrom. 
Skin cancer

This My Story is told by Kris Hedstrom in honor of her late husband Dean Hedstrom. We had the opportunity to donate to their annual golf tournament. Each year, Kris Hedstrom and Dean’s friends and family spread Melanoma awareness through many educational events. Dean Hedstrom is the reason why they do it.

Here’s Dean’s story.

Melanoma awareness

My husband, Dean Hedstrom, was a PGA Golf Professional here in Florida for 30 years. In April of 2007 he was diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma and passed away in April of 2009. It was his dream to start a foundation to educate children about the dangers of UV rays and to teach them the importance of protection and early detection. Dean Hedstrom was born August 6, 1956, in Detroit, Michigan, to Iver and Jean Hedstrom and was the third of the four boys. He was precocious and fun- loving from the minute he was born.

In 1976 Dean moved to Largo, Florida, with his fiancée, Lori, where he earned his PGA card. His PGA career positions included Assistant Professional at Feather Sound Country Club and the Head Professional at Lakewood Country Club.

After Dean and Lori moved to Florida, they married and eventually had two children, Ben and Melissa. After seventeen years of marriage, Dean and Lori divorced.

In 1996 Dean met his future wife, Kris, and adopted her eight-year-old son, Ryan.

While Dean would have loved to become a touring professional, it was not to be. Luckily, for his future golf students, this would prove to be a very good thing-Dean was born to teach.

Golf is a humbling sport, and Dean encouraged all of his students to embrace humility. Virtually every student’s report card ended with the admonition, “Don’t give up your day job!” Yet, his popularity as a teaching golf professional was undeniable. He was ‘the pro’ to students at home as well as all over the world-from young future stars, to business leaders, and even to royalty.

In April of 2005 a tragic turn of events began when Dean went to his annual dermatology appointment. There was a suspicious spot on his back that was removed and biopsied. The next day he got the call- it was melanoma. Immediately, an initial wide local excision was performed. The pathology report came back that it was a Clark’s Level V, ulcerated melanoma; it doesn’t get much worse than that.

Dean then went to H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center where an even larger excision along with a sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy under each arm was performed. The new pathology report came back that “all margins were clear and that the lymph nodes were clean!” He was told, “Go and enjoy life, you are one of the lucky ones!” Dean was not referred to an oncologist and was simply told to go to see his dermatologist every three months, which he did…

In March of 2007, Dean was not feeling well. His hip was hurting from what he thought was a pulled muscle. During a skiing trip to Utah, he experienced severe headaches and had very little energy which he attributed to altitude sickness. On his return home, he went to his doctor for a physical which included a chest x-ray, and blood work. The results were that everything was okay.

On April 16, 2007, he began having problems with his vision. Two days later, on April 18, 2007, he ended up in the emergency room where a 2.4 centimeter brain tumor in his right occipital lobe was discovered.

Dean was taken by ambulance to St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg where a neurologist was on call. Over the next few days and many scans later, it was discovered that he had tumors in his brain, hip, femur, sacrum, colon and two in the lymph nodes behind his kidney, equaling a total of seven tumors. He was told that he had Stage IV Melanoma with a prognosis of three to six months to live… Before leaving St. Anthony’s, his brain tumor was treated with Gamma Knife Radiation.

Dean went back to Moffitt and was under the care of Dr. Adil Daud, one of the top melanoma specialists in the world. Since the brain tumor was still not resolved, Dean was not eligible for any clinical trials. In the meantime, a determination was made that the tumor in his colon was perforating through the lining; so surgery was performed, and the tumor was removed. Thus began his battle with the seven tumors. First, the brain tumor was dying, and next the colon tumor was gone, so he was down to five. Lastly, he was given a chemotherapy called Temodar which is in a pill form and the only chemotherapy known to break the blood brain barrier.

It was decided that Dean should go to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to see if he could qualify for a new and very promising trial, TIL (Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes). This trial entails the removal of tumor from the patient. The tumor is then put into a Petri dish and engineered to grow special “super” lymphocytes. If the tumor does grow these lymphocytes, these lymphocytes are then reintroduced to the patient. Then the patient is treated with IL-2 to rev up the immune system and give the lymphocytes an extra boost to find the melanoma cells and kill them! For the patients that do have their lymphocytes grow and are able to complete the process, 40% of them will go into complete remission…

In March of 2009, Dean’s friend, Gray Gibbs, who owns a Lear Jet company flew Dean to Houston, Texas. Dean was in tremendous pain and very weak at this point. He was unable even roll over in bed by himself, yet, he never complained and never mentioned a single word about giving up the fight. The trip was grueling. Many scans, tests, and doctor appointments later, Dean had the surgery to harvest the tumor and attempt to grow the TIL. It would take four weeks to get results.

Once home, Dean went back to Moffitt to see what could be done to try to slow the disease down until they knew if the TIL had grown. He was given an infusion of chemotherapy.

The following week, Dean went for his second infusion, but his blood pressure had dropped dangerously low. He was hospitalized that day. Ten days later, on April 25, 2009, two years and one week after being diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma, Dean lost his battle…

Dean’s final lesson is to teach us courage by his example. That he was the ultimate competitor is beyond debate. He lived by the words, “Show me a good loser, and I will show you a loser.“ Dean proved he was not a good loser; he fought with everything that he had until his very last breath…Support During was a great resource with an active bulletin board of melanoma warriors and caregivers. Dean found comfort by talking with other people going through what he was and I made many lifelong friends there. In hopes to spread awareness and providing support to children and adults, The Dean Hedstrom Foundation for Melanoma was formed. The Dean Hedstrom Foundation for Melanoma Awareness is a 501 (c) 3 with no paid employees, 100% of the funds raised go directly to our cause. Our major annual fundraising event is a Pro-Am Golf Tournament.

“Our mission is to educate the public, especially young people, regarding the risk of overexposure to the sun and advancing research to someday find a cure for melanoma.” With the monies raised at our events, we have purchased sun-shade structures to donate to golf facilities that promote the First tee and AJGA youth programs. Below are links to the first three that we have donated. We offer free skin screenings at all of our events and donate money to The Dean Hedstrom Melanoma Research Fund at UCSF.

What is the best advice you can give to someone who thinks that skin cancer can’t happen to them?

If you take a look at our website, there are scrolling pictures of people diagnosed with melanoma, Tara who was 14 years old, Jaquie show is African American, Art who was in his 80’s, etc…. It can happen to anyone at any time. Most people believe that if they have darker skin won’t get skin cancer, the best example that this is not true, Bob Marley died of melanoma.