A mum who thought her shy daughter’s stomach ache was caused by back-to-school anxiety during the holidays was horrified to discover the little girl had a cancerous tumour in her abdomen.
Siân Rodney began to fear eight-year-old Olivia might have appendicitis when her symptoms worsened over Christmas and they
But when the family, from Bedford, went to hospital, doctors discovered a watermelon-sized tumour in Olivia’s abdomen.
Tests revealed the mass was Burkitt lymphoma – a rare and fast-growing cancer of the lymphatic system.
Health and safety worker Sian, 39, said: ‘Nobody ever dreams they will have to deal with childhood cancer.
‘When it’s suddenly in front of you, you feel like a rabbit caught in headlights with no idea what to do.
‘But, through all of this, Olivia has shown us what a strong little superstar she is.’
Fortunately, following eight rounds of aggressive chemotherapy – all administered during lockdown – Olivia is now cancer-free.
Olivia started telling her mum that she was tired during their regular 20-minute walks into town at the end of the summer in 2019.
Then, in early October, she kept saying that her tummy hurt.
As Olivia was eating normally and did not show signs of a bug, such as vomiting, Siân began to wonder whether her daughter was just feeling anxious about going to school.
But by January 2020, Olivia’s symptoms had worsened, so Siân took her to see the GP, who referred her to Bedford Hospital.
A scan revealed a mass around her abdomen, which doctors initially believed to be an abscess that had formed around her appendix.
Next, she was given intravenous antibiotics in a bid to banish any infection and Olivia seemed to be responding well.
But, after five days, her temperature suddenly spiked overnight, and doctors raced her to theatre for emergency surgery.
Siân said: ‘They planned to remove her appendix, thinking it had burst.
‘As my husband Chris and I waited for her to come back from theatre, another mum said to us, “Don’t worry, my little one just had their appendix out and they were back within 90 minutes. It won’t be long”.
‘But 90 minutes came and went, then two hours, then two and a half. I began to really worry, and said to Chris, “This hasn’t been a straightforward appendix removal, has it?”
‘After three hours, a consultant appeared, ashen-faced. I took one look at him and just started crying, “Where’s my baby?”.’
Medics explained that the mass that was originally thought to be an abscess appeared to be something much more sinister.
As it contained blood vessels that were too close to major organs to be safely removed, they could only take a small sample, which they sent away to be biopsied, along with some of her lymph nodes.
Siân continued: ‘From the moment they said the word mass, my mind was whirring.
‘By then, I knew we were dealing with something very serious.’
The next day, they were referred to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge, where an oncologist officially diagnosed Olivia with Burkitt lymphoma.
Her parents were honest with Olivia about the diagnosis.
‘We didn’t want to hide anything from her,’ said Siân. ‘That was really important to us. We also tried to keep things as positive as we could.
‘Of course, she had her down days, where she’d say to me, “I just want to go to school and see my friends, mum”.’
Within days of the diagnosis, Siân and her family were put in touch with CLIC Sargent – a cancer charity supporting young people and their families – who assigned Olivia a social worker.
Siân added: ‘CLIC Sargent was incredible. They helped us with everything you could possibly imagine, both practically and emotionally.
‘They were always at the other end of the phone if we had a question. They even gave us a grant of £170 when she was first diagnosed.’
As Olivia continued with chemotherapy, which she coped with remarkably well, and Siân found strength and solace through talking to other families in the ward.
Watching other families ring the bell at the end of their cancer treatments was emotional for Siân and her family to witness.
By April, after five rounds of chemotherapy, Olivia had a progress scan, which revealed that much of the original tumour had gone.
Ordinarily, surgeons explained, the tumour would be removed using keyhole surgery, but with operations on hold due to the pandemic, they decided to opt for three more rounds of chemotherapy instead.
Siân thinks the pandemic and lockdown has been good in a way as it has kept Olivia, who has a weak immune system, from picking up germs from people.
Thankfully, tests at the end of June found Olivia to be cancer-free – and she has remained healthy ever since.
Now back at school, she is having regular meetings to monitor her progress, but doctors are confident that she has beaten the disease.
Siân, who is keen to offer hope to other parents having a similar experience and to promote the work of CLIC Sargent, said: ‘Staff from the charity have been absolutely invaluable to our family.
‘Now I want to make sure other parents know about CLIC Sargent, too.’
If you’d like to support the charity, you can donate through their website.
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