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My three year old’s itchy «mozzie bite» was melanoma and was NOT caused by the sun. Doctors said it was impossible, but then things took a scary turn – and it’s not over yet


Cells on three-year-old Sienna Cook’s arm looked suspiciously like ‘adult melanoma’ under a microscope – but a dermatologist dismissed it as impossible.

Her worried mum Shawnee, 30, from Perth, was told it was probably just a benign lump and would need to be cut out. The doctors added that while it could certainly «become cancerous», it «hasn’t been yet», so there was no rush.

They were wrong. Now Sienna, a spirited little toddler, is halfway through a grueling series of cancer treatments after the potentially fatal disease spread to her lymph nodes.

Although rare, most forms of melanoma in children cannot be prevented because they are genetic and caused by mutation. Doctors are learning more about these tumors, often called «spitzoid melanomas.»

The most common symptom is a sudden «small lesion».

Speaking to FEMAIL, Shawnee revealed the family’s frustrating experience with medical professionals who, until they landed at the children’s hospital, seemed to dismiss Sienna and her little red sore at every turn.

Under a microscope, cells on three-year-old Sienna Cook’s arm looked suspiciously like ‘adult melanoma’ – but a dermatologist dismissed it as impossible.

The bump looked like a mosquito bite when Shawnee first noticed it
After a few months it started to look like

The bump, which appeared in June, initially looked like a small bite – but months later it started looking ‘infected’

«I still don’t believe it. I’m scared and angry. I trusted the professionals – they had her life in their hands and they got it wrong,” she said.

The melanoma, which is a genetic variant and not caused by the sun, appeared on the then two-year-old’s arm in June 2023.

It wasn’t brown, it didn’t have rough edges or dark spots, and it didn’t grow quickly like typical melanomas.

The family was on holiday in Bali and it looked like your average mosquito bite.

«I don’t have any photos of it at the time because it didn’t look different enough for me to even consider taking photos,» she said.

The little round lump never seemed to go away. At the end of August, it started to annoy Sienna noticeably.

It itched, it would hurt when she was playing with her five year old brother and it started to scab and bleed.

So, like all parents do when they notice something wrong with their pimples, Shawnee decided to take her little girl to the GP to get her checked out.

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He assumed it was some kind of staph infection and gave her a cream to try. A week later he gave her another. He tried some oral medication for a week. Nothing worked.

Sienna actually had melanoma - it was excised and
He has had a second operation to remove lymph nodes where the cancer has spread

Sienna actually had melanoma – it was excised and she underwent a second operation to remove the lymph nodes where the cancer had spread

Shawnee was losing faith and it completely disappeared when the doctor took a picture and started ‘Googling’ it.

«I said, ‘I mean no disrespect, but I feel like you don’t know what it is,'» she said.

She then asked for a referral to a dermatologist. It was now the end of October.

The skin specialist offered her a cream, but she refused it and decided to go back and have the sore scraped.

«A few weeks went by and I got a call saying under the microscope it looked like an adult melanoma, but that wasn’t right, given her age,» she said.

“They did more tests and told me it was a benign lump and I should have it removed as it could become cancerous.

That’s when she became worried, so she called the surgeon who had been referred, and his staff said the results were not urgent. He will see Sienna after Christmas.

Shawnee is pictured here with her children on holiday in Bali - her son Byron, five, has had suspicious moles removed since his sister was diagnosed, although the results are not back

Shawnee is pictured here with her children on holiday in Bali – her son Byron, 5, has had suspicious moles removed since his sister was diagnosed, although the results are not back

She went in when they reopened on January 15th.

«I was stressed at this point because they said it could turn into cancer, but everyone told me not to worry,» she recalled.

The mum became even more stressed after receiving phone calls from the dermatologist to see if she had cut it out – and then he urged her to do it quickly.

«I was like, wait, you said it wasn’t urgent, why do you keep calling me?» She said.

The surgeon said the results looked benign and said he could cut it out for $6,000 or the family could wait two weeks and the hospital would cut it out for free.

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«We decided that everyone was telling us it was harmless and we only waited two weeks and we didn’t have $6,000 on hand, so we’ll wait,» she said.

Then it took over a week for the referral to be accepted, despite several phone calls from Shawnee and the dermatologist.

On February 20, they arrived at the hospital for their first consultation.

The family, which includes Brayden's eight-year-old boy from a previous relationship, has been under a lot of stress for weeks

The family, which includes Brayden’s eight-year-old boy from a previous relationship, has been under a lot of stress for weeks

Doctors here were much more concerned by the results, which confirmed active ‘adult melanoma’ cells.

«He looked at her arm, felt her lymph nodes, looked at the records and then asked us to give him a minute,» she said.

“He left the room and came back 30 minutes later to tell me they just had a cancellation and could work the next day.

Sienna’s father Brayden, 33, asked the doctor to be straight with them. Shawnee remembers words like the oncologist throwing around and the doctor revealing he wasn’t comfortable ruling out melanoma because of her age.

The lump was excised and the medical opinion seemingly divided.

Teams of doctors including specialists in Perth were consulted. They concluded that it must be treated like melanoma.

A PET scan showed a hot spot in her lymph nodes.

Then the terrified toddler, who had developed a fear of the hospital, was strapped into a straitjacket as a brace in an imaging machine so doctors could determine which lymph nodes needed to be removed and tested.

«She was in the scan for three hours, it was the most traumatic day, the camera was so close to her face but she couldn’t move and she was screaming at us for help,» she recalled. «She said ‘save me mum’ and I just had to sit there.»

The test failed, so they took a different approach and discovered that the lymph nodes in the arm needed to be removed.

“They had to take them all out — they don’t usually do that,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sienna’s big brother Byron has a mole pop out of nowhere.

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«At the hospital, we asked them what we should do. we didn’t want to go the same way,” she said.

The doctors removed the lump and are not taking any chances – the disease is hereditary.

Sienna’s appointments continue and the ‘fiery princess’ has developed attachment anxiety and screams when she can’t see her mother.

«She’s changed so much – we got married in November and she stayed with her grandmother and didn’t bat an eye,» she said.

“I dropped her there when my son had the procedure and she screamed.

Sienna has had several surgeries to cut out the melanoma, enlarge the margins, fix the drains and remove the lymph nodes, and will soon start immunotherapy.

This could cause complications, including hepatitis, type 1 diabetes, thyroid problems, and heart disease/failure.

And given the nature of the disease, there’s no way to know if they «got it all.»

“It could travel, which means it could appear somewhere else,” Shawnee said.

Shawnee’s sister started a Go Fund Me to help support Sienna’s family. Shawnee has stopped working, although Brayden continues to run his airline.

Shawnee wants parents to be on the lookout for sores that won't heal and look for answers if they're ignored

Shawnee wants parents to be on the lookout for sores that won’t heal and look for answers if they’re ignored

At one point the wound looked like it had an ulcer inside

At one point the wound looked like it had an ulcer inside

Shawnee wishes she knew about childhood melanoma and understood more about its appearance — but admits that even the doctors she’s met since then are fascinated.

“Since she was diagnosed, the whole family has had their skin checked. The doctor who checked my husband and cut something out asked to see the photos and the pathology report and admitted he didn’t think it was melanoma,” she said.

She says that if the disease was caught when she first visited the doctor — or even when the abnormal cells were first noted — it may not spread.

The family also thanked the Australian Skin Foundation for their support since Sienna was diagnosed.

«We are at the end of the first part of her journey. We still have a long way to go,” Shawnee said.



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