Written by Emma Bailie
My name is Emma. I am 13 years old. When I was 10, I had a wart on the underside of my right forearm. It started to get bigger, turned dark brown and bled when it rubbed on my desk in school. My mom tried wart creams to get rid of it, but they didn’t work, so my dad took me to the doctor to have it removed. Two weeks later, after I started 5th grade, I found out that the wart was a type of skin cancer called Melanoma. The doctor wasn’t sure if he had removed all of it, so I had to cancel my birthday party with my friends the next day and met with a Melanoma Specialist instead.
I had 2 surgeries the next week. One surgery they called a Wide Excision where the doctor removed about 4 inches of skin on my arm to make sure that all the melanoma cells in my skin were gone. The other surgery was to check if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. They injected a dye in my arm to see which nodes under my armpit were the first nodes that take up cells. If the cancer had spread, then those nodes would have cancer cells. I had an allergic reaction to the dye, so I had to spend that night in the hospital. One of the three nodes they removed had cancer cells in it, so I had to go back 2 weeks later for another surgery to have 42 more nodes removed under my right armpit. Thankfully, none of those nodes had cancer in them! Because the melanoma had spread to a lymph node, I was told that I had stage 3b metastatic cancer and would need to take a medicine called Interferon. The first month was a high dose of infusions through a picc line in my arm. I had to go to the hospital 5 days a week to do an infusion. I spent Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Day at the hospital! It made me really tired and sick and I missed school for most of the month of December. After the infusions were done, I had to have a shot in my leg or stomach every Friday for 11 months. I finished up my treatments on December 4, 2014 and have had no signs of cancer!
For the first 2 years after the melanoma was found, I had to go to the dermatologist for skin checks and an oncologist for blood checks and chest X-rays every 3 months. I’ve had many suspicious looking moles and warts removed, too. Since none of them have been melanoma, I have graduated to dermatologist skin checks and oncologist blood checks and chest X-rays every 6 months. I’ll have to do this every 6 months for the next 5 years at least. I also have to check my skin every week for new spots. Since I was only 10 when my Melanoma was found, it’s not very likely that my Melanoma was caused from the sun or sunburns, but from some kind of genetic mutation in my cells. I do sunburn very easily, so I need to make sure that I wear sunscreen anytime I am outside and wear long sleeves at the pool and beach.
I have learned ALOT about Melanoma in the last three years. I have attended a Pediatric Melanoma Summit for the last 2 years in Dallas, TX and have met about 35 kids who have scars just like mine. The kids range from babies to 16 years old and have had primary melanomas in different places on their bodies. I have also met kids that have lost the fight that are now angel warriors.
In March 2016, I went to Washington DC with the Melanoma Research Foundation to meet with my members of Congress to tell my story and educate them on melanoma. I asked them to support a few different bills for increased funding for all cancers, including melanoma and asked for support of the FDA proposed rule to ban the use of tanning beds by teens under 18. I also asked for their support for skin cancer prevention funding to help provide awareness of how to protect your skin from the sun – especially for kids in schools.
It’s important to see a doctor right away if you have anything on your skin that grows, changes, bleeds or doesn’t heal because Melanoma can be treated if it’s caught early. Once it spreads to lymph nodes or organs, melanoma can be harder to treat and is the leading cause of cancer death in women 25-30 years old- likely because using tanning beds before age 30 increases the chance of Melanoma by 75%!! Because of my age and the location of my Melanoma, I know that mine could not have been prevented, but 90% of melanomas can be prevented by wearing sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses and hats) and not using tanning beds.