By Steve Blanchard - August 02, 2021
JoJo Soliman is like any other 5-year-old. He’s full of energy, distracted by anything colorful, argues with his older brother and is not afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind.
The outgoing young boy is one of nearly a dozen children who participated in Moffitt Cancer Center’s Pediatric Melanoma Clinic, a day dedicated to the youngest patients of the Cutaneous Oncology Department, which transforms part of the clinic into a place of balloon animals, bright colors and snacks.
"This is a day that lets these young people get the screening and care they need in a location that is friendlier and maybe a little more welcoming to their age group."- Dr. Vernon Sondak, Chair of Moffitt's Cutaneous Oncology Department
“This is a day that lets these young people get the screening and care they need in a location that is friendlier and maybe a little more welcoming to their age group,” said Dr. Vernon Sondak, chair of Moffitt’s Department of Cutaneous Oncology. “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.”
For JoJo, the visit to the clinic was routine. He has not been diagnosed with melanoma, but he has a mole on his foot that concerned his mother, Dr. Mintallah Haider, who happens to be a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at Moffitt.
“Sun safety is so important and when I saw an unusual spot on my son and mentioned it to our pediatrician, we agreed to do some following up,” Haider said. “Moffitt, I knew of course, has a fantastic cutaneous clinic and today in particular is kid friendly and accessible. Hospitals can be overwhelming for anyone, especially a child. But with the snacks and the balloons today, it just creates a different atmosphere.”
Sondak and Moffitt’s cutaneous oncology team welcome the small changes to the clinic on this special day, and the sounds of children in the exam rooms and the waiting room seem to lift the moods of everyone around.
“It’s definitely a different kind of day around here,” Sondak said. “We try to keep things a little lighter and friendlier for our youngest patients. But it’s important to remember that these children, and their parents, are taking important steps to protect themselves by seeing their dermatologists and, when needed, oncology specialists, at an early age.”
According to Sondak, melanoma remains a rare diagnosis in people under 18 years and has a better prognosis in comparison with melanomas in adults. However, deaths do occur from melanomas that arise in childhood.
For JoJo, the visit to Moffitt seemed to be like any other day, except for his fascination with the twisted balloon shapes given to him by the balloon artist in the waiting room. But even at a young age, he seemed to understand why he was there.
“They look at my freckles,” JoJo said. “And before I got to look at them through the doctor’s scope.”
And while the 5-year-old admitted that he didn’t see anything different through the medical equipment, he seemed excited to be involved in his own treatment and screening. That made the trip at least a little easier for his mother.
“My advice to other parents is to engage your pediatrician for feedback and use it as a resource,” she said. “It can be overwhelming to see a specialist but look at your time with the doctor as an educational session and teaching opportunity. I know my two sons will know the importance of staying safe in the sun.”