The Mighty Logo

3-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Proves You Don't Need Two Arms to Enjoy Halloween

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Scarlette Tipton is like most 3-year-old girls: she enjoys singing and dancing, she watches “Moana” like it’s her job and she rocks a homemade costume every Halloween.

Scarlette’s costumes, however, are a bit more creative than your average 3-year-old’s. When she was just a few month old, Scarlette lost her left arm to a rare cancer. Since then, her mom has helped her create costumes that embody her bold spirit while reminding fellow trick-or-treaters you don’t need two arms to enjoy Halloween.

“Scarlette is a true spitfire,” Scarlette’s mother Simone Tipton told The Mighty. “She told me she wanted to be a ‘spooky guy that scares people’ last year for Halloween, so I took her to the Halloween store and let her look around. She had her heart set on a skeleton dress costume and I had an idea that I wanted to try.”

Scarlette Tipton skeleton costume 1

Tipton bought a few plastic bones and put together a fake left arm that Scarlette could carry around and scare people with.

“She was so in love with it that she still carries it around a year later and calls it her ‘nother hand,” Tipton said. “She is not afraid to own her differences, and this is just further proof of that.”

This year Scarlette wanted to be something scary again, so Tipton made a one-winged raven costume for her. Here she is modeling it for the big day.

Scarlette Tipton raven costume 1

Scarlette Tipton raven costume 2

Scarlette Tipton raven costume 3

“When she was born, which was four weeks early, her left arm was gigantic,” Tipton said. “It was about three times the size of her right arm. They had no idea what to make of it.”

Scarlette Tipton few months old

For five months, Scarlette was rushed to different hospitals and specialists, undergoing numerous tests and biopsies. The Tiptons were told several diagnoses, such as the rare diseases hemangioendothelioma and infantile fibromatosis, and lipofibromatosis — a tumor found in children.

Then came the final diagnosis: undifferentiated high-grade spindle cell sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that starts in the connective tissue and can spread throughout the bones and other parts of the body. It was the only case Scarlette’s doctors had seen.

Scarlette Tipton baby hospital bed

“We did a couple months of chemo, but it would not fully remove the cancer,” Tipton said. “We were given the options of amputating the entire arm or not doing anything and having less than a year with her. We ended up traveling from California to Minnesota to do her amputation.”

Scarlette Tipton hospital bed toys

Because Scarlette was so small and the amputation so extensive, no surgeons wanted to take on Scarlette’s case. But the family ultimately found a hospital that removed her arm, shoulder, clavicle, scapula, all the surrounding skin, tissue, muscle and everything else on the left side of her torso. She then had skin grafts taken from her thighs to close the wound.

During the month the family lived in Minnesota, Scarlette had a total of seven surgeries. A year after her amputation skin expanders were inserted into her torso to grow her own skin so the grafts — which were no longer expanding and causing breathing problems — could be removed.

In total, Scarlette has had 21 surgeries, five months of chemo and about a year of physical therapy. “But the good news,” Tipton said, “is Scarlette is currently — as of October 30 — three years in remission.”

Tipton said there is a 70 percent chance Scarlette could relapse in the next two years, and she still has a “precursor” in her body between her lungs and ribs. They pray it doesn’t mutate into cancer before she’s old enough to have it safely removed without doing major damage.

It’s Scarlette’s unbreakable spirit that makes the Tiptons want to share their daughter’s story with other families. They also hope to raise more awareness for childhood cancer, as only 4 percent of U.S. federal funding is dedicated to childhood cancer research.

“We want to spread joy through her success. Scarlette embraces her differences, loves her uniqueness and isn’t afraid to tell it how it is,” Tipton said. “She loves to come up with different reasons why she’s missing an arm when people ask, like saying it’s in the dishwasher or the doctor took it away. And she also knows the truth, so she tells people in her own way.”

As Scarlette puts it: “When I have two arms, I’m sick. But when I have one arm, I’m not!”

Scarlette Tipton with cat buddy

Scarlette Tipton with siblings

And, with two cats, a great Dane, four chickens, two siblings (Kayden, 5 and Lincoln, 7 months), awesome parents Simone and Matt and her current remission status, Scarlette also has a lot more than Halloween to celebrate.

Tipton Family

You can follow Scarlette’s journey on the Facebook page Smiles for Scarlette.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Originally published: October 24, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home