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'Big Bang' cast films PSA about melanoma after death of young Md. fan

Marianne Banister's daughter inspires 'Big Bang Theory' cast to film PSA about adolescent melanoma.

CBS’s hit comedy show “The Big Bang Theory” is known for its laughs and nerdy jokes, but in a recent public service announcement, the cast got serious for a worthy cause.

Actress Kaley Cuoco, who plays Penny on the show, and castmates delivered facts and tips in a video to raise awareness about the skin cancer melanoma after learning that a young Maryland fan of their show, Claire Marie Wagonhurst, died from adolescent melanoma in October 2014. She was 17 years old.

Her mother, Marianne Banister, a former WBAL news anchor, said that Claire, a Notre Dame Preparatory School senior, was active and rarely watched TV -- but as the melanoma progressed and her vision began to decline, Banister said, "The Big Bang Theory" was her go-to show.

"It was more about listening and enjoying and laughing," Banister said. "In the evening when my husband came home, she couldn't wait to watch it with her dad, and they would just have their date."

"It was so well-written, and the acting was wonderful, and she would just laugh," Banister remembers.

Shortly after Claire's death, Banister and her husband, Rocky Wagonhurst, established the Claire Marie Foundation in her memory and to raise awareness about skin cancer. 

Later, an unexpected opportunity came their way.

A family friend in Los Angeles, who works in production and management of the TV show, told show staffers about Claire's condition and how much "Big Bang" meant to her at the end of her life, Banister said. 

Little by little, members of the show's staff learned about the foundation, Claire's story and the risks of melanoma. Then, all the forces came together, Banister said, and the cast created the PSA.

"We feel very blessed and lucky to have them on our side," Banister said.

With melanoma being the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 29 years old — and the No. 1 form of cancer in young women ages 25 to 30 — Banister hopes that the message delivered by the hit comedy show's cast will resonate with families, she said.

Sun exposure is one of the most prevalent causes of melanoma, but the skin cancer can be related to something as obscure as hormonal changes during pregnancy, or puberty, which is thought to be a factor in Claire's case, according to Banister.

The family's foundation will publish a second public service announcement in the coming months featuring supermodel and actress Molly Sims. The video is not only a nod to Claire, who enjoyed fashion and was accepted to study interior design at two schools before she died; it's also a way to reach a larger audience and young women who are often at risk, Banister said.

"If we can have someone that young moms [and] young women relate to, then that gets the message to them much better than we could on our own," Banister said. "We are beyond thrilled."

The PSA will be featured on social media and on the Claire Marie Foundation’s website. Comcast Spotlight will also feature the PSA on local PBS channels.  

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