Survivor Stories

Kaitlyn Mittendorf

Diagnosed 07/2005

In the summer of 2005, I was diagnosed with Stage 0 malignant melanoma skin cancer. I was only 8 years old; however, the cancer was treated and thankfully cured in the same summer, by the time I was 9. The cancerous mole was located on the top of my right arm, just above my elbow.

My mom was the one that noticed a change in the mole every few weeks or every couple of months. The mole wasn’t even close to a perfect circle, like a normal mole should be. The edges were rough and asymmetrical, it wasn’t a flat surface, sometimes it would peel, and the mole would also itch and/or burn at times. All of these are warning signs, so my mom refused to let it rest. She took me to my pediatrician, and he said it wasn’t anything to worry about. But what my mom calls her ‘Mother’s Instinct’ wouldn’t let her sleep at night. She took me to a dermatologist, and she also said it was nothing to worry about. My mom continued to not have a good feeling about the mole, so she flat out told the dermatologist, “Remove it, or you can keep wasting my co-pays and both of our time.” The dermatologist was hesitant to remove it because of the scar it would leave. The scar was the least of our worries at this point. The dermatologist removed it, and a few days later, she called back with the results.

She was in a position where she had to tell us she was wrong and that my results came back positive for malignant melanoma. When my parents sat me down and told me that I had skin cancer, I sat there, thoughtless and crying. At this point, I didn’t really know anything about cancer, so I just cried at the thought of the word. Everything was so surreal, and nothing made sense. Why me? I was 8, I never spent endless summer hours in the sun, I never got burned, my mom was always super mindful of me and my little brother’s sun exposure, and she always remembered to lather us in sunscreen. How could it be me? Skin cancer, unfortunately, comes from both sides of my family, and three of my four grandparents have all had skin cancer in one form or another.

I had two doctors on my side, one that was going to work with my arm and one that was to work with my lymph nodes. After taking a large chunk out of my arm, the doctors were happy to tell us, and we were elated to find out, the tumor hadn’t spread, and all of the tissue and lymph nodes came back negative. They were able to get what is referred to as a “clean margin,” meaning the area around where the biopsy had been taken out did not test positive for cancer cells. I was officially cancer-free! For me, I was lucky enough to have the cancer removed in the first mole biopsy, and the cancer hadn’t yet spread deeper into my arm or to my lymph nodes.

Now I don’t go a day outside in the sun without some kind of sunscreen. I keep a travel-size sunscreen in my purse, just in case. I am a firm believer in Mystic tans and at-home tanning products. I get awesome tans from the products I use. You don’t need the sun to be tan. And trust me, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

To the people who believe it won’t happen to them, take it from me: it very well can happen. Limit your time in the sun, and always wear your sunscreen. It would be better to wear a low amount of SPF rather than none. If all you want is a nice glow, look at your sunless options. There are SO many advances in these products, and you can see a great glow without being orange and without ending up with skin cancer.

To the people who are currently battling this horrible cancer, don’t give up hope. You’ll get there eventually. You’ll be able to sit and tell your story one day, just like me. I believe in you. To the people who have unfortunately lost their battle, you’re forever in our hearts and you’ll always be remembered.