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Finn’s Story: A Family Fighting Pediatric Melanoma

Pediatric melanoma is a rare form of melanoma that affects approximately 500 children in the United States each year — including my son Finn. Here is our family’s story.

Finn is the youngest of our five children. In July 2018, shortly after his second birthday, we noticed a small red spot on his left hand. We thought it looked like a bug bite.

Nothing to worry about

During a pediatrician visit to follow up on some febrile seizures, the doctor thought it might be a water wart and not to worry, but in December 2018, the spot had grown some, and was a little pinker. Though the pediatrician still wasn’t concerned, he did refer us to a pediatric dermatologist.

The dermatologist wasn’t sure what the spot was either but did want to do a shave biopsy and have it sent to pathologist. A few weeks later it came back as Spitz Nevus. We were told it was nothing to worry about but if it came back to see a plastic surgeon — and when two months later it had returned doubled in size, doctors repeated that it was nothing serious.  

The waiting game

In August 2019, Finn had surgery to remove the spot from his hand. At the follow-up appointment two weeks later, four people came into the room and explained it could be something more. They had sent samples to San Francisco and were awaiting results, and also told us that because the margins were not clear, Finn’s hand would need a re-excision.  

I started seeking out second opinions. I wanted to see an orthopedic surgeon that specialized in hands. A few people mentioned St. Jude, so I reached out to see if they would look at his case as well. It took about six weeks for the San Francisco pathologist to finish their testing. At this point, St. Jude requested everything as well.

St. Jude accepted Finn as a patient in November and asked us to fly there the following week, but we still didn’t know anything about their thoughts or findings. We had several appointments once we arrived at the hospital, finally meeting with the oncologist, Dr. Pappo, who confirmed it was spitzoid melanoma.

Even thought we’d suspected this news was coming, the confirmation came as a shock.

Time for action

We set up surgery with the plastic surgeon, explaining to our toddler that he would have a lot of skin and tissue removed and a skin graft over his hand. Since he would need to stay on the St. Jude campus for two weeks after the surgery — we decided to wait after Christmas.  

Finn went into surgery on January 17, 2020. They re-excised the area on his hand and took out his sentinel lymph node in his armpit to also test it for the cancer.

Thankfully, Finn’s surgery went great. He had a temporary skin graft placed with a wound vac for a week. After a week we had the wound vac removed and saw the oncologist, who informed us that the cancer was also found in Finn’s lymph node, but we needed to let his hand heal before any further surgery.

We went home and within a week, Finn’s temporary graft was starting to come off and beginning to look infected. It was a very scary time. I kept St. Jude updated daily with pictures, and eventually the hospital decided to fly us back as an emergency a few weeks earlier than planned. Finn had his permanent skin graft surgery on February 7, 2020.

Getting back to life as a family

While initial recovery from the second surgery was no cakewalk — Finn had a lot of pain from the donor site on his upper thigh and it took a few tries correctly dress the wound on his hand and get the graft to accept — our family is now home, and St. Jude and local doctors are monitoring his condition periodically.

Finn has been through a lot, but at the end of the day he’s still a normal little kid. He’s in PreK and loves LEGO, cars, and playing with his four older four siblings. While it hasn’t been easy, his siblings have taken the news pretty well and, most importantly, we have become closer as a family.

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