One mother shared how a harmless-looking bruise on her little girl’s eye turned out to be a devastating disease.
Harper Walker, from Salford, Greater Manchester, was just 13 months old when her parents noticed the small bruise under her right eye in February.
Jenny Huddart, 38, and her father Adam Walker, 36, noticed the spot had turned into a black eye after just two weeks and took her to the GP after a month.
After several visits without a diagnosis, the situation continued to deteriorate and Harper was eventually rushed to the hospital, where she was referred to a team of eye specialists.
Scans showed it was high-risk stage four neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells found in several areas of the body.
Jenny said: “To be honest we were completely shocked at first – it didn’t really hit us at first.
“When it happened, it was like the world stopped. I think we both still feel like we’re walking around in a daze sometimes.”
Around 100 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma in the UK each year, with children under the age of five being the most affected.
Tumors arise from specialized nerve cells called neuroblasts that remain in the womb as the baby develops.
The disease usually occurs in the kidneys or spinal cord and can spread to other organs, including the lymph nodes, liver, and skin.
Symptoms include a lump in the abdomen that may swell and cause discomfort or pain, and blue-black skin that has spread.
Children may also experience numbness, weakness, loss of movement in the lower body, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing.
Doctors told Jenny and Adam that Harper’s cancer originated in the adrenal gland of her kidney and is now present in her limbs, ribs, hips, skull and bone marrow.
Jenny said, “In general, her health has always been good, she’s usually cheerful, smiling and recovers from insects relatively quickly.”
“We went to the doctor as soon as we noticed it, but the GP wasn’t worried. We visited her again a few weeks later but she asked that we come back in two weeks.”
However, her diagnosis came before a scheduled appointment after her parents took her to the emergency room on the advice of 911.
After the disease was discovered at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Harper, who has three brothers and a sister, immediately began treatment, including chemotherapy.
She will continue chemotherapy until the end of this month before having surgery to remove the tumor from her kidney.
After that, she will undergo high-dose chemotherapy, during which her stem cells will be removed and frozen.
Jenny said, “Once the intensive chemotherapy is complete, Harper will be given her stem cells back so she can start growing new, healthy blood cells.”
After that, she will undergo radiation therapy, which targets the original site of the cancer – her kidney – in an attempt to prevent the cancer from coming back.
Eventually she will undergo immunotherapy to detect and destroy cancer cells.
What are the symptoms of neuroblastoma?
Symptoms can include:
- a swollen, painful abdomen, sometimes with constipation and difficulty urinating
- shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing
- a knot in the neck
- bluish bumps on the skin and bruising, especially around the eyes
- Weakness in the legs and unsteady gait, with numbness in the lower body, constipation and difficulty urinating
- Fatigue, loss of energy, pale skin, loss of appetite and weight loss
- Bone pain, limping and general irritability
- rarely jerky eye and muscle movements
Source: The NHS
Despite their distress, Jenny and Adam say that Harper hasn’t changed and is their best version of themselves.
Jenny added, “Harper hasn’t lost her spark. She is very friendly and helpful to the nursing team.
“She lost her hair a few weeks after treatment, so that upset Harper so much that she was upset.
“Adam would sit and remove all the loose hair by hand so she didn’t have to cut it because that would scare her.”
After completing induction chemotherapy, her family is awaiting updates on how she is responding to the treatment so far.
Jenny added, “Harper will have stem cells taken in early August and then, depending on the results of the scans, we will determine if she needs surgery to remove the primary tumor or high-dose chemotherapy.”
“She has been doing well overall, but has to have blood work every three days as her platelets are consistently low, so she has had more transfusions than I care to count.
“We hope the scans show that she is responding well and the cancer has gone down.
“I would love it if they said it doesn’t exist anymore, but I know that’s a dream and not a reality.
“Harper still can’t walk because one of the symptoms of neuroblastoma is weak or unstable balance, but she’s trying and slowly gaining strength.”