By Steve Blanchard - July 28, 2022
Ivy Salada has one very important piece of advice for other parents. If you see something strange on your children’s skin, get them to a dermatologist as soon as possible.
Salada and her daughter, Bella, traveled from their home in Pensacola to visit Moffitt Cancer Center on July 26 for Bella’s annual check-up. It has been five years, multiple surgeries and treatments since the 12-year-old was diagnosed with melanoma. Fortunately, the eighth grader is doing well.
Bella was one of a handful of youths who visited Moffitt as part of the annual Pediatric Melanoma Clinic day, which is hosted by Dr. Vernon Sondak and his team in the Department of Cutaneous Oncology. Although Moffitt doesn’t generally treat pediatric cases, some patients, like Bella, get referred to the cancer center by other doctors and hospitals.
That’s how Bella and Ivy came to know Moffitt and Sondak’s team.
"When we saw this lump on her left buttock five years ago, we took her to the pediatrician who treated it with compresses. When that didn’t work, we got referred to a dermatologist, who didn’t seem too concerned at first."- Ivy Salada, whose 12-year-old daughter, Bella, has melanoma
“When we saw this lump on her left buttock five years ago, we took her to the pediatrician who treated it with compresses,” Ivy said. “When that didn’t work, we got referred to a dermatologist, who didn’t seem too concerned at first.”
But after a biopsy, doctors discovered the suspicious lump was melanoma and sent the then-7-year-old to Johns Hopkins. All Children’s Hospital. From there, the Saladas were referred to Moffitt.
“It was a lot of driving at first since we live in the Panhandle,” Ivy said, adding that the quality of care her daughter received was worth the time in the car.
Bella had several treatments for her melanoma, including two surgeries — one of which removed a lymph node in her groin. Fortunately, she doesn’t remember much pain.
“I know the shots hurt, that’s all I remember,” Bella said. “But I don’t want to go through it again and I tell people to take care of themselves.”
Bella particularly targets her brother with that advice, who she says is constantly outdoors or in the pool.
“I always ask him if he’s wearing sunblock, and if he’s not, I tell him to get out of the pool and put it on,” Bella said.
Today, Bella and Ivy have to make the drive to Tampa only once a year for an annual checkup. But the mother/daughter duo make it an event rather than a chore. On previous visits, they would stop by Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, where Bella would ride her favorite roller coaster, Cheetah Hunt. This year they planned to spend a few days at Universal Studios Florida and even came to the appointment in their favorite Simpsons shirts.
“It’s important to realize that this is just a part of staying healthy, and it’s also a way for us to tie in some fun during a very important trip,” Ivy said. “We are well-aware of the sun now, and I encourage all parents to take any changes in your child’s skin seriously. Get to that dermatologist, even if you think it may be something small. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Sondak backs up that advice, saying that catching things early is the best way to keep a minor problem from turning into a major health issue.
"While it is rare, children are at risk of melanoma and other skin cancers, and here in Florida we just can’t be too careful."- Dr. Vernon Sondak, Cutaneous Oncology Program
“While it is rare, children are at risk of melanoma and other skin cancers, and here in Florida we just can’t be too careful,” Sondak said.
He added that melanomas have a better prognosis in people under 18 compared to in adults. The annual “Kids Clinic day,” he said, is something he and the Cutaneous team look forward to and always try to make the day special for these special guests.
“This makes for a different kind of day around here and we keep things a little lighter for our youngest patients,” he said.
Sondak added that it’s encouraging to see so many parents taking their children’s skin seriously and following the appropriate protocols to prevent skin cancers or treat cancers in their earliest stages to avoid more challenging treatments in the future.
Bella hopes that her story will encourage her peers to protect themselves in the sun.
“You can’t be afraid to share your story,” she said. “Don’t forget to take care of yourself and remember that the sun is everywhere. It’s easy to protect yourself if you just remember how to do it.”