POLK CITY, Iowa -- The first Monday in May is known as Melanoma Monday, which is a day dedicated to raising awareness about the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
The Muhlbauer family enjoys spending time together playing games and spreading a message. "Melanoma is known as the beast of cancers," said Mom April Muhlbauer as she showed off her black baseball tee-shirt.
"For us, it was a brand-new word. We had no idea," said Dad Keith Muhlbauer.
Their son Ross was diagnosed with pediatric melanoma three years ago. "It was like a black lump. It wasn't even noticeable to me. People were like, you have a tick on you. I never noticed it that much," said Ross.
His dermatologist removed what looked like a mole that started to grow on the then 11 year-old's left ear. "Come to find out, it was a tumor, a malignant melanoma tumor on the back of his ear," said April.
Shortly after Ross found a lump on his neck and had to have surgery to remove 65 lymph nodes. Five were cancerous. He then went through a year of immunotherapy. "He does have a high chance for reoccurrence," said April.
"He is followed very carefully. Sunscreen is kind of as normal as brushing your teeth," she added.
Ross wants to make sure people know how serious skin cancer his.
The Melanoma Research Foundation offers advice to limit exposure to UV radiation. Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply an ounce, which is a shot glass full worth of sunscreen, fifteen minutes before going outside and then reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating. Seek shade when the sun's rays are the strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Also, do monthly skin checks at home and yearly checks with your doctor. April said, "The campaign for skin cancer checks is #getnaked, and with May being skin cancer awareness month, that will be hopefully take over social media."
Ross now gets his skin checked every six months, along with other follow ups. You can still see the scars on his ear and neck, but he is considered NED, which means no evidence of the disease.
"I just realized this is a bigger deal than I originally thought. You build an appreciation for everything. So, that's why I now make sure I wear sunscreen, apply, reapply so it doesn't come back."
Keith added, “He’s been a trooper. The melanoma and the treatments and the surgery really haven’t held him back from doing the things he loves to do.”
Melanoma is considered rare in children. It is on the rise for 15 to 19 year-old age group. The National Cancer Institute estimates about 500 children in America are diagnosed with pediatric melanoma every year.