Pippa Branch, who lives in Essex with her husband Glenn and their six-year-old daughter Amber, noticed her daughter had a ‘squint’ in her left eye.
The concerned mum noticed the ‘squint’ whenever Amber was tired or in photos and she decided to take her daughter to the doctors.
Amber’s parents were told her ‘squint’ was normal however a few months later, they noticed a ‘glow’ in her left eye, which was most significant during bath time and in photos.
In January 2018, Amber was referred to an eye specialist where the mum-of-one recalls experiencing a ‘parent’s worst nightmare’ as they were told their daughter had retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer.
“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 told NeedToKnow.Online.
“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.
“Originally, we went to Orsett Hospital and they had a look at her eye, where they checked both of them over and covered up the one which was poorly.
“They were checking to see what she could respond to and it wasn’t until covering her good eye that they noticed she wasn’t able to see out of her left eye.
“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.
“After undergoing general anaesthetic, they had a look inside where they saw the tumour and from there, they recommended her undergoing chemotherapy as soon as possible.”
Pippa tried to avoid searching the internet for information about her daughter’s condition and she started experiencing feelings of fear and exhaustion.
“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."
Amber had six rounds of systemic chemotherapy 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 percent chance of relapse.”
From July 2018, the family visited the hospital every four weeks for a check-up, where they saw signs of Amber’s condition improving. However the family received more bad news in October 2019, when they discovered that she suffered a relapse.
“I kept wondering when this nightmare would end and how this would look once it’s all over,” Pippa recalls.
“She was getting older, so had more awareness and every treatment she had involved a general anaesthetic which she hated.
"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 celebrated reaching the one-year post treatment mark in March 2022 and because she had not relapsed for over a year, she was declared in remission. She even got to ring the bell to make the end of treatment which was a huge milestone for the youngster and her family.
“It was a really special moment watching her and she was quite overwhelmed by the occasion, as the bell was loud and the nurses were clapping,” Pippa said.
“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.”
Amber received heaps of support from the charity Spread a Smile
The charity brings critically ill children moments of happiness and much needed distraction during their regular hospital visits with therapy dogs, magicians, fairies and many more wonderful surprises.
“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,” Pippa said.
Since then, the charity has recorded a personalised message for Amber and now she attends virtual visits with entertainers and other children through their service.
You can donate to Spread a Smile here.