A mum who thought her daughter’s stomach ache was caused by back-to-school anxiety was shocked to discover that the eight-year-old actually had a cancerous tumour the size of a watermelon.
When her daughter’s symptoms worsened over Christmas, Siân Rodney thought she might have appendicitis.
But when Olivia was operated on, doctors learnt she had a cancerous tumour in her abdomen.
Further tests revealed Olivia was suffering from Burkitt lymphoma – a rare and fast-growing cancer of the lymphatic system – but thankfully Olivia is now cancer free.
“Nobody ever dreams they will have to deal with childhood cancer,” said Siân, 39, a health and safety worker.
“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.”
Olivia had to undergo eight rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, which took place during the coronavirus lockdown.
“Knowing what I do now, Olivia did have a little paunch around her stomach at the end of last year,” said Siân.
“It wasn’t overly obvious – just something I noticed as her mum – but I figured she’d maybe been eating lots of sweets and chocolate over Christmas and put it down to that.”
The first signs that Olivia wasn’t feeling well came in the summer of 2019. She complained of being out of breath after 20 minute walks into town.
After that, Olivia appeared to return to normal, before complaining of a stomach ache in October 2019. It was then that Siân and her husband, Chris, began to wonder if Olivia was developing anxiety around being at school.
“I thought perhaps something was going on or that she had developed some anxiety,” Siân explained. “She’s quite a quiet child, so it wouldn’t have been unusual for her to be feeling overwhelmed.
“In November, Chris and I went to talk to her teacher, who said that they’d noticed her complaining of tummy aches, too.
“As we talked things through, we came to the same conclusion that she had anxiety.
“But, by December, things got worse. Before, she’d talk about her tummy sporadically, but over Christmas it started being every other day, then after New Year, it was daily. Whenever I asked her to show me where the pain was, though, she couldn’t.”
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By January 2020, Siân had grown concerned about Olivia and booked her in to see a GP. After tests, it was confirmed she had a mass in her abdomen.
“They planned to remove her appendix, thinking it had burst,” said Siân.
“As 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.’”
She continued: “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?’”
The following day, a specialist Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge an oncologist officially diagnosed Olivia with Burkitt lymphoma.
The rare cancer is seen just 210 times each year and is less common in females, according to Cancer Research UK.
Blown away by the efficiency of her daughter’s treatment, Siân wants to offer hope to other parents having a similar experience.
She has been working with charity CLIC Sargent to come to terms with everything that has happened to her family over the past year.
“Staff from the charity have been absolutely invaluable to our family. Now I want to make sure other parents know about CLIC Sargent, too,” she said.
Helen Gravestock, associate director of services at CLIC Sargent, said: “The pandemic is having a huge impact on the families CLIC Sargent supports. On top of treatment, parents are anxious about their children being vulnerable to coronavirus and how they will cope financially.
“Cancer isn’t stopping for coronavirus and neither will we. Young people and parents have told us they’re struggling to cope, and they need our support more than ever.”