Mum Shares Pic Of Little-Known Cancer 'Glow' Symptom That Saved Her Daughter's Life
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Victoria Hogg, 29, from Essex, had taken a photograph of her little girl Nancy on 10th December last year, after noticing her left eye sometimes pointed inwards.
Victoria, who is also mum to three-year-old Florence, along with her partner Sonny Smith, explained they hadn't noticed any previous issues with Nancy's sight, but in early December 2019, Victoria's 15-year-old niece noticed Nancy would occasionally go cross-eyed.
Victoria recalled: "We didn't think it was anything serious, but soon after, I was brushing her hair in the bath and noticed it myself. Her eye would occasionally turn in towards her nose.
"After she got out of the bath, I got my phone out to take a photograph to try and confirm what I was seeing because it wasn't always there."
But after studying the photo, Victoria noticed a glow on her daughter's pupil which sparked immediate concern.
"I remembered reading something on social media saying that taking a picture with a flash and looking for a glow over the eye can show cancer. There was a massive glow over her left pupil, and I immediately panicked," she continued.
"I covered her bad eye and asked her to identify some household objects like a shoe and a red pencil, then covered her normal eye and asked the same and she shook her head and said 'Mummy I can't see it'."
Sonny was working nights and Victoria immediately rushed Nancy to A&E while her nephew stayed with Florence.
After a lengthy wait due to the busy Christmas period, Victoria was finally seen, recalling how she knocked on a nurse's door and said "Can you help me? I think my daughter has cancer."
Victoria said: "I showed her the photograph and she was amazing. She got the consultant, who said although they were not specialists, they would be working on the presumption she had an eye cancer."
The following day the couple took Nancy to the ophthalmology department at Southend University Hospital for eye tests and an ultrasound.
"Within a couple of hours they said she had a large tumour on the back of her eye which had caused some damage to her retina. It looked like retinoblastoma."
According to The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, retinoblastoma affects around one child in the UK per week, more commonly under the age of six.
She continued: "I asked the consultant how long she had not been able to see out of her eye, but they couldn't say. They said it wouldn't have happened quickly but would have deteriorated over a period of time as the tumour grew."
Eight days later, Nancy had a 45 minute operation at The Royal London Hospital's specialist retinoblastoma centre to remove the tumour.
Victoria added: "Nancy was so smiley all the way through, she put the mask on for the anaesthetic herself. That was the heartbreaking thing. I was expecting her to be a little bit frightened and unsure of what was happening, but she quite happily walked herself down to theatre with a big grin on her face."
A biopsy confirmed the retinoblastoma diagnosis and the family were given the option of having Nancy's eye removed, or using a couple of types of chemotherapy.
"She could have kept her eye, but it would have been for purely cosmetic reasons as she would never have got her sight back, so we decided to go ahead with the eye removal," said Victoria.
"It was an easy choice - why would you leave it in if there is a tumour in it, or it increased the chance of the cancer coming back or spreading into her brain and potentially taking her life?
"There was a chance if we didn't, she would need it removed in the future, and the thought of her having to have it done as a teenage girl when it would be far more traumatic for her."
The operation was booked in for 27th December and so the family planned a big Christmas - with 18 people on Christmas Day - as a distraction from the devastating news.
"We wanted to forget about everything and it ended up being the best Christmas I can remember.
"Nancy got lots of presents and we got her a Barbie campervan which she was desperate for. It was expensive, but we wanted to treat her.
"We hadn't told her that she was having her eye out, as we wanted her to enjoy Christmas. There was no need for her to know at that point."
Just a couple of days later and in preparation for the operation, Victoria and Sonny showed Nancy a dinosaur with a removable eye that they had been given by the hospital, explaining what would be happening.
"We used the toy to show her how her eye was going to be removed and that they would put another one in and put a bandage over her poorly one," she explained.
"She asked if she had bugs in her eye because that's what she would say if she had a cold - that she had bugs in her nose - so that felt like the easiest way to explain what was happening.
"She took it amazingly well, which was the hardest things because as a four year old, she didn't really understand."
The operation lasted for three hours and Victoria and Sonny anxiously waited in the hospital waiting room. "Sonny sent me a picture of her lying in bed with all the bandages sleeping and I just broke down," said the mum.
"I thought, 'That's my little girl lying there and she has cancer.'"
The next day, before being allowed home, Nancy had a temporary conformer fitted, which holds the shape of the eye socket. But once the family returned home, they faced some difficult challenges.
Victoria said: "For the first 24 hours Nancy wouldn't open her other eye and we had to guide her round the house - I think because whenever she tried to open the good one, the muscles in her other one would flicker and it was painful.
"Then there was an incident three or four days after the operation when she had a friend over and we heard both girls screaming as the conformer had fallen out. Nancy was screaming 'My eye has fallen out' which must have been very traumatic.
"We took her to Southend University Hospital who helped us put it back in again, as she was still very sore."
Two weeks after the operation and staff from The Royal London Hospital went into Nancy's school to explain to her classmates what had happened to her eye.
"She has never come home from school and said anyone has been horrible to her. A few of her friends told her if her eye fell out they would go and get the teacher - they were all very sweet," Victoria said.
Thankfully, Nancy needed no further treatment, and in February she was fitted with a temporary prosthetic eye after a visit to Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.
Victoria explained: "It's a bit like picking an eye off a shelf - they try different shapes and sizes and give her one that matches as best as they can.
"We showed it to her in the mirror and it was like we got our Nancy back. She was smiling and giggling.
"Even though she had smiled throughout, it felt like her smile was her own again. Her confidence was back."
The little one is due to be with fitted with a permanent artificial eye next week which shouldn't need replacing.
"We're so happy with the eye she has now. You can't tell it's not real unless you're at her eye level looking at it directly when you can see it doesn't quite focus," Victoria said.
Victoria desperately wants to raise awareness of retinoblastoma, urging other parents to be vigilant.
"People need to be more aware of the signs - a white glow in the eye, not being able to see properly with one eye covered and any sign of a squint.
"People think they're wasting their doctor's time, but they're not. Just go because it may turn out to be something serious."