“Addison has some moles on her scalp and they turned out to be melanoma. I feel like I am living a nightmare!”
Not exactly the words I ever expected to hear from my long-time friend, Briana Cox, in September of 2011. Melanoma? You mean skin cancer? In an infant?! How on earth does that happen? Addison was a mere three months old when the Cox family’s world was turned upside down…for the second time in just a few weeks span. Briana, at age 32, had just recently found out that she was diagnosed with melanoma for the second time in her young life. The first round happened back in 2006 when she was just 27 years old. She had discovered a mole on her scalp. Luckily, it was caught early and she had it removed. She went to her scheduled checkups and eventually was cleared of it altogether. Now fast-forwarding to the summer of 2011 she suddenly, just months after giving birth to her second child, is diagnosed with Stage IV metastasized malignant melanoma, seemingly without a hint of a symptom or exterior sign of it anywhere. In hindsight, the doctors said the symptoms were there: fatigue, nausea, discomfort…but she was pregnant, chasing an active toddler around while also trying to finish her degree. Why would a pregnant woman that was uncomfortable, exhausted and nauseous even begin to think that she needed to be checked for something more serious? With Briana’s new diagnosis, her immediate concern was not about herself but to the health of her newborn baby girl. The doctors initially assured her that baby Addison would be fine, and that the rarity of mother-to-fetus cancer transfer was exceedingly rare. Briana’s motherly instinct kicked in and being the stubborn, fierce, red-headed “bulldog” she was, insisted on having her daughter tested, especially after noticing some peculiar markings on Addison’s scalp. Heart-wrenching results: their infant daughter also has Stage IV metastasized malignant melanoma…a living nightmare it was!
The scary reality is that there are cancers that can transfer from mother to fetus. According to Dr. Lisa Masterson of the television show “The Doctors,” (which ran an episode about Briana and Addison) lymphoma, leukemia and melanoma are the three known culprits whose molecular makeup is small enough to actually cross the placenta, melanoma being the most common. It is exceedingly rare, and at the time of Addison’s diagnosis, there had only been nine documented cases in the entire world. Her tiny little body is riddled with over a dozen tumors. That’s right; over a dozen. They are scattered from head to toe: 5 in her brain alone, on her shoulder, spine, heart, liver, lungs, thigh, knee, and even one on the back of her tongue. What were the treatment options for such a young patient?
With Addison being just a few months old at the time of her diagnosis, and with such a rare form of cancer for an infant, the doctors had to be careful about how to treat her. Phoenix Children’s Hospital worked closely with the FDA and the drug manufacturer to create a dosage specified to her size, allowing Addison to be treated with a drug that is actually created for adult usage. The doctors initially came back with the bleak news that little Addison would probably only live to be about 12-18 months old, but have since stretched that to possibly 2 years.
The first time I met Addison was also painfully the day I had to say goodbye to my sweet friend. Briana was called to Heaven on February 12th, 2012, just a short 8 months after receiving her diagnosis. A few friends and I were able to make the long trip from her home state of Kansas to Arizona were she settled down with her family. Her adorable, now 4 year old little boy was running around, trying to avoid everybody because he wanted to go play, with a stern look of determination to make it to that back door—a look he most definitely inherited from his mother! We let him scamper off after many failed attempts to chat with him and get hugs. Since he was out playing, we turned our attention to little Addison. She was a bubbly, energetic, now 9 months old; an absolute doll. She was passed around for hours and hours on end and even to complete strangers, and she just went with it. Never once in the hours we spent with her did she cry, whine, or wiggle to be let down or left alone. She posed for pictures, gave kisses and entertained us all with her capabilities at maneuvering an iPhone. She has to be the easiest going, most lovable child I have ever met, including my own!
Even though we only had a few short hours with her, her personality and loveable nature has left an imprint in my heart like no other. Looking at her you can’t believe what her tiny body is fighting. If she is experiencing any pain, she certainly doesn’t act like it in any way. All she does is smile and laugh and play. She is continuing to grow as a normal—now 16 month old—toddler should. She’s walking, talking, learning, growing, and continuously stealing hearts! Her last few checkups have also brought some good news and a great amount of hope; she continues to hold steady and none of her tumors have grown! She is such a fighter! A trait she most certainly inherited from her strong, resilient, military parents.
While the sad reality that cancer is not rare in children, the fact that Miss Addison was born with metastasized malignant melanoma is very rare. Her dad, James, has created a foundation called Addison’s Army Against Melanoma in hopes that we can reach people from Arizona to Kansas and all across the globe to help educate about the truths and help dispel the myths pertaining to melanoma. A final wish from our beloved Briana; one we intend to wholeheartedly carry through in her memory. Addison’s Army is just as much for you, B, as it is for your precious daughter. I hope we can make you proud.