DELIGHTEDLY snapping away photos of their little boy Noah, Laila Gaudry and Ollie Blanks couldn’t wait to see the finished results.
Noah was about to celebrate his fourth birthday and they were proud of just how much their son had grown up.
However, little did they know that one of the pictures they had taken would reveal something a lot more sinister – a deadly sign of an aggressive cancer.
Noah had to have his left eye removed to save his life – and his parents are now sharing his story to raise awareness of the devastating condition.
Noah’s dad Ollie first suspected something was wrong with him in 2017 when he noticed a strange white glow in one of Noah’s eyes in a photo – when the flash had gone off – and a squint.
He began googling the symptom and soon stumbled across retinoblastoma – a rare type of eye cancer, that typically affects kids under the age of five.
Concerned, Ollie and his wife Laila rushed their son to A&E where their worst fears were confirmed – Noah had the deadly eye cancer.
Laila told Metro: “When the word cancer was first mentioned we looked at each other as we fell apart.
“While we waited for Noah’s appointment at the Royal London Hospital, one of two specialist centres for retinoblastoma in the UK, we just kept telling ourselves that as long as it hadn’t spread, we would get through it.”
Doctors explained to Noah’s parents that he had a grade D tumour – meaning the cancer had spread throughout the retina and eyeball but not to the lens.
They told them that chemotherapy might help but that Noah could still face surgery to remove his eye, known as enucleation if the tumour didn’t respond well to treatment.
A few days later, Noah celebrated his fourth birthday – and his family made it as special as they possibly could before he started his treatment.
Noah was then forced to undergo six cycles of chemotherapy – which at one point even triggered an allergic reaction.
When the word cancer was first mentioned we looked at each other as we fell apart
However, as time went on, there were fewer complications and tests revealed that the tumour was responding well to treatment.
And with Christmas round the corner, Noah’s family were convinced the end was in sight and that they had left the “danger zone” for enucleation.
Despite this, Noah’s family’s happiness was to be short-lived – as just before Christmas Day they returned to the hospital to discover Noah’s tumour had grown substantially.
Doctors gave them the devastating news that the only option was for Noah to have his eye removed.
“After everything Noah had been through, I couldn’t believe it was all for nothing,” Laila said.
“What was meant to be a bit of good news before Christmas turned into our worst nightmare.”
Under advice from the medical team and other parents, Noah’s family didn’t tell him the news until Boxing Day so that he could enjoy Christmas.
Noah then had the surgery to remove his eye on 27 December – after expressing some confusion as to what to expect.
Noah’s operation was successful and he had a temporary prosthetic eye fitted four weeks after his operation.
Laila said: “I was truly amazed at how good it looked and how well he coped. At his first check-up post-surgery he was given the all-clear.”
Noah is now six-years-old and thriving and is a typical little boy who loves running round with his big brother Jake and playing with his Lego.
The family, who are looking forward to a positive and happy Christmas together this year, are keen to give hope to others who might be in the same situation.
Laila said: “Life is so much better and I hope our story can help other families to know that there really is light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust are also urging all parents to be vigilant and look for signs of cancer in their photos this festive season.
Patrick Tonks, chief executive of the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, said: “Christmas time always provides lots of great photo opportunities.
What is retinoblastoma?
Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer, that typically affects kids under the age of five.
Between 40 to 50 kids in the UK will be diagnosed each year.
And while distressing, more than nine in 10 patients will be cured.
The cancer can affect one or both eyes.
What causes the disease?
In some cases a child is born with a mutation in the retinoblastoma gene, they inherited from one of their parents.
In other cases this genetic mutation can happen in the early stages of development in the womb.
This gene is known as the RB1 gene, and most with a mutation of RB1 will be diagnosed with the disease.
Around four in 10 cases of the disease are inherited.
In the remaining 60 per cent of cases, experts do not know what causes the disease.
What are the symptoms?
Most kids with the disease will seem well.
Two common signs that parents first notice are:
– the pupil looks odd
The pupil may appear white, like a cat’s eye that is reflecting light.
The child may also have problems with their vision.
In other cases the eye may be red and inflamed.
How is the disease treated?
Smaller tumours can be treated using laser therapy, cryotherapy (freezing treatment) or thermotherapy (heat treatment) to destroy the tumour.
Larger ones will need surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, or a combination of the treatments
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“We urge all parents to be aware of the most common symptoms of retinoblastoma – the two main signs being a glow in the eye and a squint (lazy eye).
“Retinoblastoma is extremely rare so there’s no need for parents to panic, but it’s best to get your child checked out as soon as possible if you have any concerns at all.
“You can take them to your GP, a local optician or an ophthalmology department.”
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