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Finn’s Story: A Family’s Story on Fighting Pediatric Melanoma

Guest blog from Daphne Kiernan, mother of pediatric melanoma warrior Finn. 

finnFinn is the youngest of our five children. In July 2018, shortly after his 2nd birthday, we noticed a small red spot on his left hand. We thought it looked like a bug bite. During a pediatrician visit to follow up on some febrile seizures, the doctor thought it might be a water wart and not to worry. In December 2018, the spot had grown some, and was a little pinker. We went back to the pediatrician and again he wasn’t concerned. He shined a flashlight over it, saying he could see through it, and it was kind of soft. The pediatrician did go ahead and refer us out to a pediatric dermatologist.

In March 2019, we had our appointment for the dermatologist. She wasn’t sure what the spot was but did want to do a shave biopsy and have it sent to pathologist. A few weeks later it came back as Spitz Nevus and it was explained to us that it was nothing to worry about. We were told it might come back and if it did, we would have to see a plastic surgeon. About two months later it came back twice as big and almost appeared to be two spots that joined together within a matter of weeks. The dermatologist then referred us to a plastic surgeon so we could make sure all of it would be removed. Again, we were told it was no big deal and nothing serious.

In August 2019, Finn had surgery to remove the spot from his hand and we had a follow-up appointment two weeks afterwards to check healing. At the follow-up appointment, I remember four people coming in the room and explaining it could be something more. They informed us they had to send samples to San Francisco, and it was a waiting game now. They did tell us we would have to have a re-excision of his hand because the margins weren’t clear. While we were waiting for the results, I started seeking out 2nd opinions and wanted to see an orthopedic surgeon that specialized in hands. I had a few people mention that I should see if St. Jude would look at his case so I reached out to them 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.

In November 2019, St. Jude called and accepted him as a patient and asked us to fly there the following week. We didn’t know what their findings were or thoughts until we got there. Once we arrived at St. Jude, we had multiple appointments. When we finally met with the oncologist, Dr. Pappo, he confirmed it was spitzoid melanoma. Even though we kind of knew this news was coming, it was very shocking and a lot to process. We set up surgery with their plastic surgeon and it was explained that Finn needed a lot of skin and tissue removed and he would need a skin graft over his hand. We decided to wait until after Christmas to have this surgery since he would have to stay on campus at St. Jude for about two weeks.

On January 17, 2020, Finn went into surgery. They re-excised the area on his hand and took out his sentinel lymph node in his arm pit to also test it for the cancer. 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. He informed us that the cancer was also found in Finn’s lymph node, but we needed to let his hand heal. We went home for a couple of weeks with the plan to return mid-February for another surgery to give a permanent skin graft.

finns familyWe 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. St. Jude 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. He had another wound vac for a week. We had a few issues with the vac leaking and Finn experienced A LOT of pain from the donor site, which was his upper thigh. Finn went days crying and not walking or wanting to use the restroom. When the wound vac came off, it looked pretty good. St. Jude still wanted us to stay a little longer to keep an eye on it. A few days later when they were changing the dressing on his hand, they discovered the graft was not accepting and it was a mess. They spent about an hour cleaning it, and re-dressing it. They let us go back home for a few days with directions on how to change the dressing. We went back to St. Jude in March for the doctors to make sure his hand was healing properly, which it was, so we were able to go back home.

St. Jude has decided to not further treat Finn at this time and instead to watch and do scans every three months for five years and visits to the dermatologists every three months as well. Because of COVID-19, we did our May scans locally and they were good. In July 2020, he did have a suspicious spot that the dermatologist was concerned about. Finn had ultrasounds of his hand and armpit at St. Jude in August and right now they are still monitoring him.

Finn is starting PreK and loves Legos, cars and playing with his older four siblings! His siblings have taken the news pretty good and we have become closer as a family.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and stories like Finn’s are a powerful reminder that melanoma can affect even the youngest members of our community. In honor of Finn and the 500 additional families who will be affected by pediatric melanoma this year, please consider a tax-deductible gift to support further research, better treatments and progress towards a cure.