We thought our baby girl was just tired – I’m sharing this photo to save other parents our worst nightmare | The Sun
A MUM is sharing photos of her baby girl who was given a devastating diagnosis after her parents just thought she was tired.
Pippa Branch, from Essex, noticed that whenever one-year-old Amber was tired, she would “squint” her left eye.
She decided to take her to the doctors for some advice, but they reassured her many kids have squints.
Months later, Pippa and her husband Glenn spotted a “glow” within Amber’s left eye, which was particularly prominent during bath time and in photos.
Pippa said: “Originally, we went to Orsett Hospital and they had a look at her eye.
“It wasn’t until covering her good eye that they noticed she wasn’t able to see out of her left eye.
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“Medics said they could see something, like a lesion, so asked us to come back the following day for a specialist to look – this is when they referred us to Royal London Hospital.
“They had to do an eye sight test, which confirmed she had no vision within that eye and then they put eye drops in to dilate.”
Amber was put under general anaesthetic so the doctors could have a look inside her eye.
It was then that they discovered a tumour, and Pippa and Glenn were told a “parent’s worst nightmare”.
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Their little girl had a rare form of eye cancer – retinoblastoma – which usually affects young children.
Around 50 cases are diagnosed in the UK each year.
It can cause a white glow in the eye in a photo, called leukocoria. But sometimes there are other causes of this phenomenon.
“I felt sick and terrified, as I had never heard of the term retinoblastoma before and I didn’t know what we were dealing with,” Pippa said.
“At this point, I was in pieces as the cancer nurse specialist phoned us to talk through the process, where they gave us the options of chemotherapy or the potential reality of having her eye taken out.”
Pippa went from worrying about her daughter having glasses, to thinking about the traumatic future they had in front of them.
In a bid to keep things as “normal” as possible, she avoided researching the condition and waited to be told information which was relevant to her daughter’s situation.
However, she couldn’t help thinking ‘what next?’.
She said: “It was like being on a train without being able to get off – so the best way to get through it, was to keep going.
“She had six rounds of systemic chemotherapy, which took us over the next three months.
“After the first two rounds, they looked at her eye again and as she had a good response to treatment, the tumour had stopped growing.
“I remember thinking, ‘does that mean this is it, have we saved her eye?’ but the answer was that she was fine for now, as there was an 87 per cent chance of relapse.”
Not over yet
From July 2018, the family visited the hospital every four weeks for a check-up, where they saw signs of her condition improving.
That was until October 2019, where Amber suffered a relapse.
Pippa said: “I kept wondering when this nightmare would end and how this would look once it’s all over.
"Her treatment was moved to Moorfields hospital due to this pandemic, where we had to travel into London every three weeks.
"After 17 rounds of laser treatment, they decided she needed a different form of chemotherapy, which was called intra-arterial chemotherapy.
“This was given through her thigh, which was threaded through into her eye and gave a direct form of treatment.
“After three sessions of this, we were told she didn't need any further treatment."
Amber, now six years old, celebrated one-year post treatment in March 2022.
Because she hasn’t relapsed for over a year, she is declared in remission.
Signs of retinoblastoma
- An unusual white reflection in the pupil
- A squint
- A change in the colour of the iris
- A red or inflamed eye
- Poor vision
A big milestone at the end of this treatment was when Amber rang the bell to mark the end of her ordeal – and Pippa says this is a day they won't forget.
She said: “It was a really special moment watching her.
“I think around three weeks later, we actually were able to process everything – despite the moment being incredible, we finally had an understanding of our new reality.
“She’s a resilient child, who we call our ‘little superhero’ as that’s what she is to us.
“She got on with it, even in the moments she didn’t enjoy, such as wearing a patch on her good eye so her poorly eye could start working.
“Now she knows a lot about all she’s been through, she’s proud of herself as she sees this as something special about her.”
While they’ve received support from family and friends, their biggest form of help was from charity, Spread a Smile.
They aim to bring critically ill children some happiness and much needed distraction during their regular hospital visits, via therapy dogs, magicians, fairies and many more.
Pippa said: “On her day of diagnosis, there were therapy dogs on the ward and that was by chance, our first time meeting them – we had no idea how special they would become to us.
“We soon realised their timetable and hoped we were in on the same day as them, as this gave something for not only the children, but for parents to look forward to as well.
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“We loved seeing her reclaiming her childhood and for her birthday, Spread a Smile hosted a Zoom party, which was very special.
“In her world, she’s the only person she knows who went to hospital and they have helped her feel a bit more ‘normal’.”
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