Toddler's discoloured eye in photographs was a sign of rare cancer

A mum-of-one discovered her toddler had a rare and aggressive form of cancer – after repeatedly noticing one of his pupils looked discoloured in photographs.

Student nurse Lauren Barker, 22, spotted a white shine on her son Frankie’s left pupil in photographs when he was just four months old.

At first she thought nothing of it, but when the white reflex kept showing up she raised the issue in a doctor’s appointment in July 2019.

After eight months of consultation, scans confirmed that little Frankie had cancerous tumours in both eyes. In March 2020, he was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a rare and aggressive type of cancer.

Since his diagnoses, Frankie has received laser treatment, chemotherapy and cryotherapy – a treatment designed to freeze tumours.

But if the more severe cancer in his left eye advances, the only option may be to remove the toddler’s eye.

Lauren, from Pontefract, West Yorkshire, said: ‘I first saw the white reflex from his eye when he was four months old.

‘Frankie’s pupil would show up white compared to other family members in photos.

‘But I didn’t think it was anything significant. I didn’t start telling people that he had a glow reflecting from his left eye until he was about a year old.

‘I think doctors struggled to diagnose him because the form of cancer is extremely rare.

‘Plus, Frankie looks medically well. You wouldn’t know he had cancer if you saw him.

‘He’s just a typical two-year-old. He’s energetic, adventurous and boisterous. He’s incredibly strong for his age.

‘But, I knew there was something not quite right as he kept standing on things that were in front of him and he banged his head often.’

As the cancer is caused by a mutation in a retinoblastoma suppression gene, Frankie is at a greater risk of developing bone cancer and potentially lung cancer in the future.

Lauren is also worries Frankie could become blind.

The heartbroken mum said: ‘The scary fact is that the cancer is in both his eyes.

‘Of course, it’s a horrible situation but if it is one eye, you can accept it as he will still be able to see out of the right eye if the left eye is removed.

‘It’s the prospect of having a blind child which you don’t want to think about.’

Lauren hopes Frankie’s vision in his right eye will remain stable so he will be able to continue playing football.

For now, Frankie is just concentrating on his treatments at the hospital.
Lauren said: ‘I hope the treatments can reduce the tumours or control them at least so Frankie has a bit more of a life.

‘Otherwise, if the cancer spreads, it can go through the optic and central nervous system – which is when it will start to spread throughout the body.

‘The only time now he leaves the house now is to go to the hospital – which isn’t what a two-year-old shouldn’t be doing.’

Other symptoms of retinoblastoma include squinting, a change in the iris colour or a red and swollen eye without infection.

Lauren urges parents who notice any of these symptoms to talk to a doctor.

She said: ‘It’s not just a white glow, there are other symptoms of retinoblastoma. If you are worried about your child’s eye, then I’d advise just to get it checked out.

‘The longer you leave it, the worse it gets and the tumours can grow.’

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