Minnesota toddler diagnosed with rare form of melanoma

At three years old, Lainey Turnbull is already a cancer survivor. She was barely two years old when she was diagnosed with skin cancer, which came as a surprise to her mom, a dermatologist.

“I was horrified,” Dr. Lydia Turnbull told Fox 9. “I think as a parent, you never want to hear your child has cancer. So, when you do…you lose everything because everything is out of your control. [You] don’t know what the outcome is going to be. It was awful.”

Dr. Lydia Turnbull is a board certified dermatologist. She first noticed the problem spot on Lainey’s arm a year and a half ago.

“It was a tiny little bump on the back of her arm, maybe three to four millimeters – a little red bump. And I didn't really think much of it,” Lydia said.

At first, Lydia thought the bump was molluscum, a benign skin infection, and nothing to worry about. But, it never went away. Subsequent acid treatment made the mole disappear, but it would soon grow back.

With 12 years of medical training under her belt, Lydia began to worry as both a mom and a doctor. A biopsy confirmed the unthinkable: her child had spitzoid melanoma, a rare form of the disease.

“The incident is one in a million,” Lydia said.

Fortunately, it was caught early and hadn't spread to Lainey's lymph nodes. A surgeon removed the melanoma, leaving the adorable little girl with a scar on the back of her arm. Her family lovingly calls it her tiger stripe.

Lainey's outlook is bright, though her doctor mom is definitely keeping a close eye on every inch of her skin.

It's a message she wants to share with other parents. Because despite the long odds, Lainey is proof melanoma can strike the very young.

"You are your own best child's advocate because you are giving baths, seeing them every day. And the doctor is just meeting them for the first time once or twice per year,” Lydia says. “So it's important to look them over. Know their skin. Know the moles they have and keep an eye on them. Know if they are changing. If there's ever an ugly duckling mole that doesn't look like the rest, that's when I would pick up the phone and call. Either see a pediatrician or more importantly a board certified dermatologist who is trained to see these lesions."

Lydia explained that parents should be looking for any new, small mole-looking spots. The spots are usually red, possibly brown, may potentially bleed or that don't disappear after a couple months. The spots will look like they just don’t belong on your child, she said.

Lydia told Fox 9 this form of pediatric cancer is so rare that research has not determined an obvious cause in such young patients.