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Symptoms of eye cancer as baby's sore eye turns out to be a sign

Katherine O'Neill noticed her newborn Amelia had been rubbing her left eye since being born. (The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust/SWNS)
Katherine O'Neill noticed her newborn Amelia had been rubbing her left eye since being born. (The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust/SWNS)

A mum has shared how her baby was diagnosed with eye cancer, after it was initially believed the redness could be attributed to eczema.

When her twins were born, Katherine O'Neill, 42, from Winsford, Cheshire noticed her daughter Amelia kept rubbing her left eye.

Having passed her sight check, the mum-of-two was advised the redness could be down to eczema, but six months later Amelia's grandma noticed her eye looked unusual.

O'Neill was given a same day appointment at the GP, where she was told Amelia could have a cataract or retinoblastoma - a rare eye cancer.

A week later, the family were seen at Manchester Children's Hospital where Amelia was diagnosed with a Grade E tumour in her left eye.

Amelia had to have six rounds of chemotherapy, going on to have her eye removed in a three-hour operation.

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Amelia had to have her left eye removed. (The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust/SWNS)
Amelia had to have her left eye removed. (The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust/SWNS)

Now almost three, Amelia is "doing fantastically" and her mum says it is difficult to tell she only has sight in just one eye.

After being born slightly prematurely in September 2020, O'Neill noticed her daughter was frequently rubbing her eye.

"There was a noticeable redness on the eyelid, but the eye appeared normal," she explains.

Having mentioned it to health visitors, she was advised to bring it up at the 12-week check, but when the rubbing got worse she called her GP, who requested some pictures.

Watch: 'Both my twin daughters were diagnosed with eye cancer at just a few weeks old - one has beaten it and one has relapsed'

Doctors initially believed the redness could be a birthmark or eczema but six months later, in March 2021, Amelia's grandmother noticed something wasn't quite right with her granddaughter's eye.

“Amelia was in her highchair when my mum said, 'What’s wrong with Amelia’s eye?'.

"I hadn’t noticed anything about the actual eye before, but under the spotlights in the kitchen, you could see that it was protruding and looked kind of dead.

“We called the GP the next morning and they fitted us in that day."

"The doctor advised it could either be a cataract, or a very rare cancer, but she suspected it was the latter," O'Neill explains.

"She gave me a leaflet and said she was referring us under the two week cancer rule.

"I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting two weeks to be seen so I contacted my local independent optician.

"He advised that I go and see him and if he was concerned, he’d refer us straight to my local hospital, which is what we did."

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Amelia had to have her left eye removed. (The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust/SWNS)
Amelia had to have her left eye removed. (The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust/SWNS)

O'Neill says she was "devastated" to be told her daughter had cancer.

"I didn’t call my family as I couldn’t break down because I still had a half an hour walk home with the babies," she says.

"Two ladies stopped me to make a fuss of the babies and I remember just not being there – it felt so surreal. I couldn’t believe what I had been told."

Between March and August 2021 Amelia had six rounds of chemotherapy.

"I slept in the bed next to her, she was hooked up with wires, and it was awful to watch knowing how poorly it would make her," O'Neill explains.

Read more: Optician helped 'save her niece's life' after spotting cancer during an eye test (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)

O'Neill says you'd hardly know Amelia has had her eye removed. (The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust/SWNS)
O'Neill says you'd hardly know Amelia has had her eye removed. (The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust/SWNS)

Though the treatment shrunk the tumour, the cancer started to grow again, which meant Amelia needed four chemo injections into her eye.

"I took the decision there and then to have Amelia's eye removed," her mum continues.

"We realised that her eye didn’t look like her eye anymore and as she couldn’t see out of it, at least if she had a prosthetic eye, the cancer would be removed."

So, on December 8 2021, Amelia's left eye was removed.

"She is a superstar," her mum says of her daughter's recovery. "She has such a wonderful, feisty and kind personality.

"She is always keen to try new things and make new friends."

O'Neill says her daughter is recovering well following her cancer treatment. (The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust/SWNS)
O'Neill says her daughter is recovering well following her cancer treatment. (The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust/SWNS)

Signs of retinoblastoma

The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) says that typical signs of retinoblastoma include a white glow which may only appear in certain lights or a squint, as well as a change in the appearance of the eye or a swollen eye, although often only one sign or symptom is present.

Another symptom can be a sore or red eye, without an infection.

Richard Ashton, chief executive of CHECT says: “Retinoblastoma is rare, with around one baby or young child being diagnosed in the UK each week.

"Symptoms can be quite subtle, and children often seem well in themselves which can make it hard to diagnose."

Additional reporting SWNS.