Girl, 5, has eye removed after mum spots cancer in picture taken on her phone

A five-year-old girl had an operation to remove her eye just 17 days after her mum spotted a ‘tell-tale sign’ of eye cancer in a photo.

Victoria Hogg, 29, says a ‘quick picture’ taken on her phone likely saved her daughter Nancy’s life after it showed a glow over her left pupil.

Days later, doctors diagnosed the little girl, then 4, with retinoblastoma and she underwent surgery to stop it from spreading to her brain.

Mother-of-two Victoria says Nancy was ‘running round like a normal child’ before the large tumour was found last year and wants to encourage other parents to recognise the signs of retinoblastoma, which is diagnosed in one child in the UK every week.

The family, from Brentwood, Essex, noticed in early December 2019 that Nancy would occasionally go cross-eyed – but did not believe it was anything serious as she had progressed well with her reading and writing at school.

However, soon after, Victoria became aware of the fact that her daughter’s eye would ‘would occasionally turn in towards her nose’.

She said: ‘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.’

‘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”.’

Trying not to panic, Victoria took Nancy to Basildon University Hospital’s A&E department where a consultant said that, although they were not specialists, they would be working on the presumption she had an eye cancer.

The next day, experts from the ophthalmology department at Southend University Hospital confirmed the little girl was suffering from retinoblastoma.

A ‘heartbroken’ Victoria said: ‘It was a blur, I remember going outside to meet my partner and I just collapsed in sobs of tears. I told my partner Sonny and he broke down. But we picked each other up and went back inside, knowing we had to be strong for her.

‘We will never know how long it was there for and at what point she started losing her sight. That’s the worst part, because you think, “Did I miss something?”

‘But she was fine, she was doing well at school, and running round like a normal four-year-old.’

Eight days later, Nancy had a 45-minute operation to remove the tumour at The Royal London Hospital’s specialist retinoblastoma centre.

Speaking of her daughter’s bravery, Victoria said: ‘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.’

The family could have chosen to use different types of chemotherapy to try and blast the remnants of the tumour – but decided not to take risk of it returning later in life.

Nancy was given a cuddly dinosaur with a removable eye for Christmas by the hospital to help prepare her for the operation due to take place on December 27.

The little girl ‘screamed’ when she saw the bandages on her head after she underwent the operation and had a temporary conformer fitted – but ‘rallied’ by the next morning.

Two weeks after her surgery, she was back at school and even went horse riding.

Victoria says all of Nancy’s reception friends have been supportive of her ordeal, saying: ‘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.’

Nancy was over the moon after being fitted with a temporary prosthetic eye in February and has now ‘got her confidence back’.

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.

‘She’s completely normal with it. She loves to make little jokes too. Her dad asked her to get something from the bedroom and she came back and said “I can’t see it, You should ask someone with two eyes!”‘

Victoria is now working with the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust to encourage other parents to be aware of the signs of retinoblastoma.

She said: ‘Parents don’t think of their child’s eyes until they take them to the opticians for an eye test. If it wasn’t for my niece mentioning that she’d briefly seen Nancy go cross-eyed, she would probably still have cancer.

‘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.’

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