May is Melanoma Awareness Month. I first became aware of that exactly a year ago when we took our 6-year old to his very first Yankees game. There was an announcement over the loudspeaker, during the first or second inning, I forget exactly which one, telling fans there were booths set up for free melanoma screenings.
At the time, MBA Son had acquired a small but very dark mole on this forehead. One night in March I was doing his bath and thought it was a piece of dirt that hadn’t come off, so I scrubbed and scrubbed. Except it didn’t come off. I thought about taking him over to the booth but didn’t want to spoil a good time for him. After all, he got to see his hero Derek Jeter play and witness an inside-the-park home run, albeit by the other team.
Maybe I should have.
I kept an eye on the mole. I felt relieved as time passed and it looked the same as it did when I discovered it. Still, I was a bit concerned so I brought it up with his pediatrician at his 6 year old check up. He was not worried, and walked me through the whole ABCDE mnemonic for skin screenings.
His dentist was another story. Pretty much before she examined his teeth she asked me if a dermatologist had looked at his mole. She told me she had several atypical moles removed as a child and teenager so she is more mole aware than most, but still she scared me.
I hastily arranged an appointment for him at my dermatologist the day before we moved here. She examined him and took a picture of it. “Let’s keep an eye on it for now,” she told me and come back in 3 months.
I left the office feeling uneasy. To me, 3 months indicated they wanted to keep a close watch on it. Still, I added finding a pediatric dermatologist to my list of new doctors to find. I wasn’t going to mess around this time. I wanted my son to see someone who focused on children’s skin issues.
So in early November I got him an appointment at Rush. Since it is a teaching hospital, first the chief resident came in and took a look. He said pretty much the same thing as my dermatologist, just continue to watch it, we won’t remove it now, maybe down the road. He left the room to get the more senior doctor. He walked in, took one look and said, “We’re taking it off today.”
My adrenaline level went from high to stratospheric.
Of course, I didn’t have the luxury of panicking. I had to comfort my son, who on a good day doesn’t like anyone touching his face. So, trying to get him to be still while a stranger stabbed his forehead with a needle then scrape a 5 mm crater out of it was going to be a serious effort. It was. It took 2 nurses and the resident to hold him down. I would have helped but by this time MBA Toddler was traumatized by watching others pin her brother down and started screaming as a result.
As twisted as it sounds, for me the torture was not watching the procedure on my 6-year old; it was the 2 week wait for pathology results. Yes, we had to wait 2 weeks. They wanted to check his scar then anyway.
It was pretty amazing I didn’t crash my car on I-290 getting back to Rush for the follow-up that Monday before Thanksgiving because I was so, so scared. What if they told me my 6-year old has melanoma? I didn’t tell anyone about it and I know I would have been blown off. 6-year olds don’t get melanoma. But they can, I know because I asked the doctor the day of the procedure. It is rare but he has seen cases in young children.
The doctor walked into the room with the report, and led off with this story about the mole my son had, and some study on these moles back in the 1940s and they ended up calling it juvenile melanoma.
“So, is it melanoma? I asked. He said for one of the children it was.
“Well, is it in my son?” I didn’t really care about the study, not that day anyway. I cared about my son.
Fortunately, it turned out to be what’s called a pigmented spindle cell nevus which is benign. That was the good news. The bad news is based on some other study he cited (don’t you just love research hospitals), it does increase the risk factor for melanoma, so he has to go to the dermatologist for, well forever. So do we. The doctor recommended the entire family be seen as well.
Thanksgiving came early for us this year. After we were done at Rush, all four of us went out to dinner and I breathed a sigh of relief, for now. Granted this mole was fine but that fear doesn’t go away. He does have a few moles so while we do the monthly checks, I really look every chance I get, and I am afraid for what I might find.
In our case, this mole happened due to genetic factors, mainly his fair-skinned and molely mom and dad, not sun exposure or overexposure but it does illustrate how especially important it is for my family to be sun smart. I carry 2 sunscreen sticks in my bag, the kids wear hats and he always wears a guard top in the pool – no going topless for him. Also, we try to play in shady spots if we can. That’s good advice for everyone to follow. And please, for the love of God, check your child’s skin regularly for moles!
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