Cancer survivor wins scholarships, offers prevention advice

Cailyn Ruff was a senior at Sunlake High School, in Land O’ Lakes, when she felt an odd bump on her head.

That was about a year-and-a-half ago.

“It was like a big mole,” the 19-year-old said. “I saw it through my part line. It looked funny. It would bleed.”

As it grew, she became concerned and brought it to the attention of her dermatologist.

Next, came a biopsy.

Cailyn Ruff, who lives in Lutz, was a senior at Sunlake High School when she found out she had a rare form of melanoma. She underwent a successful surgery and is cancer-free, but she wants to remind others of the importance of wearing sunscreen and hats to protect themselves from too much sun. She wants to become a pediatric nurse practitioner and recently received some scholarships to help pay for her studies. (B.C. Manion)

“It was a good three weeks before we got the first results, saying they were inconclusive. It was not something they were used to seeing. So, they actually sent it to the USF (University of South Florida) doctors.

“The dermatologist said ‘You better get a second opinion.’

Her mom, Kim Carpintier, recalled how scary that was.

It took two weeks to get her into Moffitt Cancer Center, and when they did, they were told that the young woman needed surgery immediately.

“They were worried that it had spread to her lymph nodes,” Carpintier said.

If more time had passed, Ruff would have faced chemotherapy.

As it was, surgery was performed to remove the melanoma, the surrounding area and six of her lymph nodes.

“Moffitt told her that she’s one of two kids that they’ve ever seen with this form of melanoma,” Carpintier said.

After the surgery, Ruff said, “I was in pain for a long time.”

It took her about two months to regain full mobility in her head and neck.

Still, she knows how lucky she is.

“Nothing got infected,” she said. “By March, I was 100 percent myself.”

While they do not know what caused the melanoma to form on her head, Ruff and Carpintier suspect it could have been a result from being exposed to the sun for long hours, when Ruff was a cheerleader and when she ran cross-country.

Both mother and daughter said that schools may want to suggest that students who are out in the sun for hours wear a hat and protect themselves with sunscreen.

“No one thinks to wear sunscreen and a hat during school events because you get out of school and you change, and you go and do what you have to do,” said Ruff, who is now a student at the University of South Florida.

She plans to pursue a career as a pediatric nurse practitioner, and said that’s partially due to the excellent care she received from nurses at Moffitt.

Her career choice also has been influenced by her current job as a vision therapist at Walesby Vision Center, on State Road 54 in Lutz.

She has worked with both children and adults, both for both everyday issues and various disorders, she said. She works primarily with children, performing vision therapy with children experiencing challenges such as visual-motor and/or perceptual-cognitive deficiencies. Many of the children she serves have autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or other medical conditions.

Ruff began working at Walesby to earn volunteer hours, but she was so good with children she was offered a job, Carpintier said.

Recently, Ruff received a $5,500 scholarship through an essay contest sponsored by Panera Bread and the Children’s Cancer Center. The awards were presented at the Palma Ceia Country Club in south Tampa.

Ruff’s mom was impressed by the event.

“It was beautiful. They went above and beyond,” Carpintier said. It honored youths who have dealt with cancer, ranging from 16 to 20 years old.

The stories that were shared were touching, she said.

Ruff also has received two other scholarships, one from a Greek organization, and another from an Italian organization.

She hopes to continue her education in USF’s nursing program, but realizes that it’s very competitive, so will be applying elsewhere, too.

Her goal is to work at Tampa General Hospital in the pediatrics unit, or at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital or at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital.

Ruff lives with her mom, Kim, her dad, Don Carpintier, and her sister, Meghan Ruff, in Lutz.

She’s grateful for all of the help and support she’s received.

Besides the scholarships, she also has received support from her grandparents, Carol and Bill Little, and her aunt, Lois Zapert, who all live in Lutz and her grandmother, Michele Carpintier, who lives in St. Petersburg.

Published May 23, 2018

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