A teenage girl has been experiencing cancer symptoms since her identical twin was diagnosed in 2017, despite not having the disease herself.
Sophie Walker, 16, from Edinburgh was diagnosed with Wilms tumour – a rare type of childhood kidney cancer – on October 25 2017, and started a four-week course of chemotherapy shortly after.
In the five years since her diagnosis Sophie has gone into remission twice but relapsed four times. Throughout her cancer journey her twin sister, Megan, has been experiencing many of the same symptoms.
After Sophie was diagnosed following stomach bug-like cramps, Megan also began experiencing similar symptoms, which included stomach and back pain, paleness and even weight loss.
“When Sophie was first diagnosed, Megan had all the symptoms," the twins' mum, Rebecca Walker explains.
"People comment on how ill she looks all the time – she’s even paler than her sister."
But despite undergoing extensive tests Megan has been declared healthy.
"It’s so bizarre,” her mum adds.
After an initial 27 weeks of chemotherapy, Sophie went into remission until January 2020 – when a routine MRI revealed "something worrying" on her spine.
A consultant informed the family that her initial biopsy had "seeded on her spine". This meant the needle inserted into Sophie’s initial tumour had dislodged and spread cancer cells.
Following a three-week course of radiotherapy, a relapse in December 2021 and remission in December 2022, consultants told Sophie three months ago that she’d once again relapsed.
"All the consultant could say was that the results were ‘not good’ – and Sophie started to cry," mum Rebecca reveals.
“She just broke down, for the first time in six years.”
While Sophie’s dad, Jamie Walker, 44, left the room to console his daughter, Rebecca stayed with the consultant to ask further questions.
“I was told to take her away and make memories, while she’s well enough," she shares of the difficult moment.
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Sophie’s consultant has since revealed she’ll be able to have the tumour on her spine operated on by a team of consultants, oncologists, paediatric surgeons and plastic surgeons.
But despite now having what her mum describes as a "little bit of hope", Sophie is understandably struggling with health anxiety and depression, with her sister Megan experiencing the exact same feelings.
“Megan just can’t settle if Sophie isn’t there," Rebecca reveals. "We have a big family and everyone looks out for each other, but Megan has been struggling hugely.”
Sophie and Megan have eight siblings – James, 20, Emily, 19, Ruthie, 17, Daniel, 13, Olivia, 11, Emma, nine, Nathan, eight and eight-month old Evan, and while the family are all close, the identical twins seem to share a particularly special bond.
“While the older ones are looking after the younger ones in the house, Megan will stay in hospital by Sophie’s side, sometimes until 3am,” Rebecca adds.
“She won’t leave her until Sophie says, ‘I’m tired, I want to go to sleep'.
“All throughout COVID, she wasn’t allowed to see Sophie as Jamie and I were her two named visitors and she really couldn’t cope.
“As soon as those restrictions were slightly lifted, Megan wanted to see Sophie again.”
When Sophie relapsed in January, Rebecca says Megan wanted to have a "head-to-toe" MRI scan.
“Nothing showed up, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her,” she explains.
“Consultants are telling me it’s just a ‘twin thing’ – which I find totally bizarre. I’ve never heard of identical twins getting sick at the same time, when one isn’t even ill herself.”
The Walker family are currently running a GoFundMe to raise funds for proton therapy in New York – after receiving surgery in Scotland on a date to be confirmed. To donate visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-us-save-our-wee-girls-life
What is Wilms tumour?
Wilms tumour is a type of kidney cancer that mainly affects children. It develops from cells called nephroblasts and so are also called nephroblastomas.
Kidney cancer in children is rare but Wilms tumour is the most common type. According to Cancer Research UK almost 85 children between the ages of 0 and 14 years are diagnosed with Wilms tumour each year in the UK.
They are most common in children under 5, but rarely they can develop in older children and very rarely, in adults.
The most common symptom is a painless swelling of the tummy (abdomen).
Parents might notice a lump in the tummy or, a healthcare worker might notice a swollen tummy when the child is having a routine appointment.
Other less common symptoms include:
bleeding inside the tumour causing pain
blood in the urine – found in around 20 out of every 100 children (20%) with a Wilms tumour
raised blood pressure
high temperature (fever)
loss of appetite
feeling or being sick
shortness of breath and cough (only if the cancer has spread to the lungs)
generally feeling unwell
looking pale due to a low number of red blood cells (anaemia)
being irritable due to their tummy feeling uncomfortable
It is important to remember Wilms tumour is very rare, so having these symptoms doesn’t mean your child has cancer.
Nevertheless it is important to take them to the GP, so any problems can be looked into.
The main treatments for Wilms tumour include:
chemotherapy for almost all children
surgery for all children
radiotherapy for some children
Additional reporting SWNS.