Amy Clark

Melissa & Michael’s Story: Children’s Melanoma

We would like to thank Melissa & Michael for sharing their story with us and the Children’s Hospital of Orange County for facilitating this discussion.

Michael is pictured in the picture to the left. Michael volunteers his time at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, a few hours each month.

We hope our readers find these pieces informative. If you would like to share your child’s story with our readers, please email me at We would love to raise awareness about childhood health issues.

Melissa & Michael’s Story: Children’s Melanoma

While rare, melanoma is becoming increasingly more common in adolescents and young adults. But because this form of skin cancer is usually associated with older adults, it is often overlooked or misdiagnosed in younger individuals.

For years, CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange County) has been educating healthcare professionals and the public about the rising incidence of melanoma in young people. Today, The CHOC Cancer Institute is the only program in the region offering expert, aggressive treatment for adolescents and young adults with this deadly disease.

It’s a good thing Michael Driscoll spoke up about the small lump he felt under his thick, dark hair. His mother, Melissa, would never have noticed it if he hadn’t pointed it out to her.

Melissa’s heart sank when she saw the small, black scab on her son’s scalp. She knew it didn’t look good. Fortunately, this happened while they were both sitting in their dermatologist’s office. The dermatologist took a biopsy and was reassuring, but Melissa could tell she was quite concerned, too.

A few days later, on the way home from basketball practice, Michael learned he had the deadliest form of skin cancer. He was only 15. His dermatologist immediately arranged a referral to Leonard Sender, M.D., medical director of The CHOC Cancer Institute. Michael’s parents still remember how Dr. Sender called them back that very same day.

“Dr. Sender told us it would be okay, and that he had worked with numerous young patients with melanoma,” Melissa recalls. “I got the feeling that everything would be okay. Dr. Sender would make sure of it.”

During the subsequent surgery to remove the melanoma, 39 nodes were removed from the right side of Michael’s neck. One was cancerous, and Michael’s cancer was classified as stage III melanoma.


The Driscolls carefully researched Michael’s treatment options and obtained second opinions from other special­ists. Surgery was a given, but not every specialist agreed with how far to continue treatment. Some recommended a “wait and see” approach.

Dr. Sender firmly disagreed. “He said, ‘No, this is melanoma. You need to treat it aggressively,’” Melissa Driscoll recalls. “We listened to everyone and prayed about it. We looked to guidance from God on which way to turn, and it all fell into place.”

Michael and his parents decided to take the aggressive approach, and he began receiving treatment at CHOC in July 2004.

After the first month, Michael continued receiving treat­ment at home. His father, Mike, gave him injections of interferon three times a week for the next 11 months. Michael remembers always feeling tired and a headache that lasted an entire year. He lost some weight and his hair thinned a little.

Showing maturity far beyond his years, Michael never complained. He just made the best of it and tried to rest as much as possible.

Although Michael missed several school days, he was able to keep up with his studies. That year, he even managed to play the small forward position on his school’s basketball team.


Michael’s treatment finally ended in August 2005, and he continues to receive follow-up care at The CHOC Cancer Institute. The latest tests have shown that Michael is in remission. Still, Michael has to be vigilant about wearing sunscreen and hats, and he must stay out of the sun as much as possible.

Academically, Michael is on track as a junior at Santa Margarita High School.

Earlier this year, Michael started volunteering at CHOC at Mission through his school. He spends eight hours a month working with the staff and patients on the pediatric floor. At such a young age, Michael knows better than most people, exactly what these patients are going through. But he also knows there are many reasons to be hopeful, especially when cancer is caught and treated early.

And for that, he can thank his mom. Realizing that every-one is at risk for skin cancer, Melissa Driscoll has been routinely taking her children to the dermatologist for years.

“People don’t always think about taking kids to a dermatologist, but melanoma does happen. I believe in being proactive and taking my children in for an annual check-up. They all have very fair skin and a lot of moles, which are key risk factors for melanoma,” she says.

Melissa is quick to give credit where credit is due for Michael’s good outcome. “Dr. Sender is our hero. He has the aggressive personality needed to beat this demon called cancer,” she says. “And I think while medicine is very vital to beating cancer, prayer is the force behind any medication and every believing doctor. God is the reason for Michael’s success.”

What Can YOU do?

Spot a Spot Information


* Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer; there are 1.3 million cases of skin cancer in the U.S. every year

* One third of people living in southern California will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime

* Melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, kills one person every hour in the U.S.

* Melanoma is the most common cancer in women ages 20 to 29, and the #1 cause of cancer deaths in women ages 25 to 30

* By 2010, about one in 50 people in the U.S. will get melanoma

* Melanoma is one of the top causes of life years lost to preventable cancer

* Melanoma is 95-100% curable if caught early and treated quickly

* 19/20 melanoma deaths might have been prevented by education alone


* People shouldn’t be dying from a cancer that is visibly growing on their skin- education is imperative

* We get approximately 80% of our lifetime sun exposure before we are 18 years old

* Having one blistering sunburn under the age of 20 doubles your lifetime risk of melanoma

* Three or more blistering sunburns increase your risk of melanoma five times

* Your chances of developing a sunburn are greatest between 10am and 4pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest

* The shadow rule: The sun’s rays are less intense at times when your shadow is longer than you are

Skin Cancer Self-Examina

Examine your body front and back in a full-length mirror. Raise your arms and check your right and left sides.

Bend elbows and look carefully at forearms, upper underarms, and palms.

Examine the back of your neck, scalp, and genital area with a hand-held mirror.

Next, check the backs of your legs and feet, including the spaces between toes and soles

Spotting Melanoma:

To spot melanoma, look for the ABCD‘s as sited by the American Academy of Dermatology.* If a mole has asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation or change, or a diameter change it could be a sign of melanoma.

Asymmetry — If you were to fold it in half, the two sides wouldn’t match up

Border irregularity — Jagged or blurred edges rather than smooth continuous line
Color variation or change — Two or more different colors are present or if the mole has been changing in any way
Diameter — Any sudden or continuing growth and any mole larger than 6mm (the size of a pencil-top eraser)

About CHOC

Making a mark in pediatric healthcare for more than 40 years and named one of the top children’s hospitals in the nation by CHILD magazine, Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) is exclusively committed to the health and well being of children through clinical expertise, advocacy and outreach. CHOC’s growing healthcare network includes two state-of-the-art hospitals in Orange and Mission Viejo, several community clinics, a residency program that trains tomorrow’s pediatricians, four centers of excellence -the Heart, Cancer, Orthopaedic and Neuroscience Institutes, and a Research Institute that brings advanced treatment to our patients.

CHOC recently earned the “Excellence in Patient Safety & Health Care Quality Award” from the state’s leading health plans, and was one of only nine children’s hospitals in the nation to be named to the Leapfrog “Top Hospitals 2006″ list, based on results from The Leapfrog Group’s Hospital Quality and Safety Survey. For more information about CHOC, visit

Published June 19, 2007 by:

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of You can read all about her here.

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