Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with stage III melanoma.
I didn’t spend a lot of time in the sun before my malignant melanoma diagnosis. And I wasn’t someone you’d consider at high risk for melanoma. I was only 9 years old.
I was actually born with a small pen- point-sized mole on my right cheek. Over time, it grew, and when I was 8 years old, it became raised and had irregular borders. When I told my pediatrician that it was starting to bleed and itch, he sent us to a dermatologist, who removed the mole and sent it to be biopsied.
My parents looked devastated. I was scared and nervous. I worried about my little sister and brother. Did they understand? Were they scared, too?
My pediatric melanoma treatment at MD Anderson The first time my parents and I went to MD Anderson, we met my oncologist, Cynthia Herzog, M.D., and head and neck surgeon Ehab Hanna, M.D. They talked to us about the testing and procedures I needed, including a surgery to remove the cancer. Everyone on my care team was so nice and helpful. They were funny, too.
When more test results came back a few weeks after my surgery, they showed four tumors near my right parotid gland. Dr. Hanna said I needed another surgery to remove my parotid gland and 46 lymph nodes.
After that surgery, I started a clinical trial using an immunotherapy drug called interferon. This required 30 straight days of intravenous treatment. After the 30 days, my mom gave me shots in my stomach area every other day. I was only able to take those for a few weeks because they caused fluid to collect in my knees. One time it got so bad that it hurt when my pants leg touched my skin. I had to have my knee tapped three times to drain the fluid.
At that point, Dr. Herzog decided to take me out of the clinical trial and just monitor me.
The growing pains of pediatric melanoma Because of my malignant melanoma treatment and recovery, I had to be homeschooled for a year. I missed laughing and playing with my friends at school.I also missed out on parties and other fun activities when I was in the hospital.
But there were positives. I got to participate in special events with the Children’s Cancer Hospital, including a trip to Camp A.O.K. and Candlelighters parties. The Make-A-Wish Foundation also granted my wish to meet President Barack Obama. My whole family got to visit the White House.
Life after pediatric melanoma Just last month, seven years after my malignant melanoma diagnosis,I got to ring the bell in the Children’s Cancer Hospital to show that I’ve been done with treatment for five years. I now only return to MD Anderson once a year for labs, scans and checkups. I’m happy that I don’t have to miss as much school and can focus ontraining with my high school track team, performing hip-hop dance, going to movies and having fun with my friends.
I try not to think about cancer much now. But I do regular skin exams and always tell my friends to wear sunscreen and protective clothing, stay in the shade, and talk to their doctors about any unusual moles, warts or freckles. Aside from me, they’ve never met anyone our age who’s been diagnosed with or survived cancer, let alone a cancer that’s so much more common in adults.
But as I always tell them, melanoma doesn’t just affect older white people. We all have to protect and be aware of changes in our skin. I know I’m glad I spotted the changes in mine.