Mum warns of rare eye cancer
THE mother of a toddler battling a rare form of eye cancer has described watching her undergo chemotherapy as "heart-breaking."
Natalie Whittle, who works at the Premier Inn at St Davids in Exeter, has spoken out about her family's harrowing past few weeks in a bid to raise awareness of the condition that is affecting her 21-month-old daughter Lillia.
Just two weeks ago the youngster was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a very fast growing tumour inside the eye that is formed from the retina. As a result she is near blind in her left eye and her only vision is of light and dark.
Lillia has now just started six months of chemotherapy to try to cure it. However, the majority of children who are diagnosed with it lose their eye as it is often not picked up early enough to save it.
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After numerous visits to different hospitals, Lillia was finally diagnosed in London at one of only two specialist departments for this cancer in the country.
Mrs Whittle, who lives in Okehampton, said: "When we went up to London I think deep down we already knew what it was. But it was still a shock when they did sit us down and told us and gave us a picture of her eye. It was harrowing to see.
"Her vision is permanently damaged and she will only be able to see light and dark at the very best. It is only in one eye at the moment but there is a chance it could spread to the other eye.
"She has been quite sick with the chemo and it has been a very difficult time. She was petrified and crying her heart out. She was so frightened and didn't understand what was happening to her.
"It was such a difficult thing to sit there and live through. It was heart-breaking."
Retinoblastoma currently affects one in 20,000 babies but is often undetected for several years.
Mrs Whittle said that a simple test can be done by families.
She added: "The reason we found it was because she had a slight squint in her eye which we thought just meant she needed glasses and a patch over her good eye to make her use the bad one. After diagnosis we took a picture using flash and found that she had one redeye pupil and the other was a like a white cat's eye reflection.
"From this we want to raise as much awareness about this cancer that we can in the hope that other people know the warning signs and can get it picked up as early as possible so that their sight can be saved.
"We were told that at this stage chemotherapy is our best option but the majority of cases are discovered a lot later and the child loses the eye.
"Lillia could still lose her eye if the chemotherapy doesn't work and the cancer can still come back in her eye or in other places.
"There are no guarantees but having a diagnosis a lot earlier can save a lot of heartache."