by Angela de Jong-Angelici
My 11-year-old daughter, Alyssa, is a cancer survivor. As we approach the two-year mark from when we first heard the words, “Your child has melanoma,” I think about how those four words have forever changed our family. We are different. Alyssa is different.
In 2012, a small red mole on Alyssa’s arm led us to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. When we first walked in the doors, it was surreal. Almost as if we didn’t belong there. Children can get melanoma—and I struggled with the fact that my child had skin cancer.
Melanoma is uncommon in children, but St. Jude doctors have seen more than their fair share of cases. They are world-renowned experts in childhood cancer, and melanoma in kids is no exception. Not only are these doctors treating cancer and saving children’s lives, but the research at St. Jude will continue to save lives for years to come.
Like so many childhood cancers, the origin of pediatric melanoma is still unknown. Alyssa didn’t tan outside or in a tanning bed. We put sunscreen on her and her brother.
Our journey has made us much more aware of many things. We’ve become advocates for melanoma research and sun safety. Alyssa enlists family and friends to help her remember to wear her hat, apply sunscreen and keep her arms and legs covered. She wears sunscreen head to toe—even underneath her clothing and on cloudy days. She knows it’s a habit she must continue for the rest of her life, rain or shine.
I’m confident that through genomic research, scientists will solve this puzzle. But it’s important to remember that sun exposure is still a factor and a risk—for all kids.
Alyssa spreads the word to children and adults: Skin cancer is no joke. Sunburns are not funny. They’re painful and increase your risk of developing melanoma. Young children like Alyssa who are diagnosed so early will spend the rest of their lives being vigilant in protecting themselves from the sun.
Alyssa is much older and wiser now because of her experience with cancer. She has experienced things that most people hope they’ll never have to deal with or understand. Take time to put sunscreen on your children. Pay attention to your child’s skin. Be an advocate. Don’t dismiss them because they’re young. Early detection is critical.