‘My daughter’s eye cancer was mistaken for eczema’ — Signs to look for

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A mother has spoken of her “devastation” after what she thought was eczema on her baby daughter turned out to be a symptom of a rare cancer.

Since her birth in September 2020, twin Amelia was constantly rubbing her left eye.

A healthcare professional advised her mum Katherine O’Neill, it could have been caused by the common skin condition.

Katherine, from Winsford in Cheshire, said: “I was first advised by the health visitor to put breast milk on it.

“There was a noticeable redness on the eyelid, but the eye appeared normal – she had passed her newborn sight check and I was advised the redness could be eczema.”

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But the following March, when Amelia was six months old, her Grandmother noticed something wasn’t right with her eye during dinner.

The next day Katherine was able to secure a GP appointment where she was told Amelia could have a cataract or retinoblastoma – a rare type of eye cancer.

Katherine recalled: “Amelia was in her highchair when my mum said, ‘What’s wrong with Amelia’s eye?’.

“I hadn’t noticed anything about the actual eye before, but under the spotlights in the kitchen, you could see that it was protruding and looked kind of dead. When Amelia was diagnosed, I was devastated.”

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Amelia was then referred under the two-week cancer rule but devastated mum, Katherine couldn’t bear to wait two weeks and contacted her local optician – who then referred Amelia to Hospital.

A week later, the family were seen in Manchester Children’s Hospital where Amelia was diagnosed with a grade E tumour – the most severe stage – in her left eye.

She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy between March and August 2021, which weren’t successful.

Katherine, 42, said: “She had four chemo injections but there were new areas of growth, even the consultants were surprised at how aggressive the cancer was.

“I took the decision there and then to have Amelia’s eye removed.”

Amelia’s left eye was removed in December 2021 during a three-hour operation.

Now aged two, she has since been fitted with a prosthetic eye and is doing “fantastic”.

“She had been through enough and by then, we realised that her eye didn’t look like her eye anymore and as she couldn’t see out of it, at least if she had a prosthetic eye, the cancer would be removed,” Katherine said.

“She still has to have check-ups in Birmingham every three months.

“She is a superstar. She has such a wonderful, feisty and kind personality. She is always keen to try new things and make new friends.”

Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer that can affect young children.

It affects the retina, found at the back of the eye.

According to the NHS, the main symptom is a white glow or white reflection in the centre of the eye (pupil).

Other symptoms include:

  • The eyes pointing in a different direction (squint)
  • The coloured part of the eye (iris) changing colour
  • Swelling around the eye
  • Uncontrolled eye movements
  • Vision problems
  • Pain in one or both eyes.

Richard Ashton, chief executive of Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, commented: “Retinoblastoma is rare, with around one baby or young child being diagnosed in the UK each week.

“Symptoms can be quite subtle, and children often seem well in themselves which can make it hard to diagnose.

“In just under half of all cases, a child must have an eye removed as part of their treatment.”

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