Eye infections in children are pretty common. Parents usually assume it’s some form of pink eye or conjunctivitis.
That’s exactly what Paul and Gaylene Robson thought when their daughter, Stella, began to have what looked like an infection. So did their doctor.
When they initially took the 6-year-old in to have it looked at, the doctor prescribed them antibiotics and creams. They were told to wait a few days and it would clear up.
Instead, Stella’s eyes continued to swell. Her left eyelid turned bright red and began to puff up.
Knowing that something wasn’t right, Gaylene took her daughter to an ophthalmologist for a second opinion. They then sent her to get an emergency CT scan at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
The scan revealed every parent’s worst nightmare. Stella had a bell-shaped tumor that was growing between her eye and her brain.
“The tumor was growing into the orbital bone, the bone that surrounds the eye… it was roughly 1.5 cm and shaped like a bell,” said Gaylene. Stella was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare cancerous bone tumor.
Stella had emergency surgery to remove the tumor. The surgeons were able to successfully remove the growth by entering through a crease in her eyelid. They were able to do so with no damage to her tissue or brain.
On Christmas Eve, the Robson family was then referred to oncology and would go through 12 weeks of intensive chemotherapy to make sure the cancer was gone. They also had to be sure no other tumors had developed. Thankfully, they hadn’t.
“It was the most nerve-wrecking time of my life,” said Paul. “The word cancer, tumor, didn’t mean anything to [Stella], to an adult it’s a conversation stopper, but she just takes it in her stride.”
Following the 12 weeks of intensive chemotherapy, Stella continued for one year “maintenance chemo” treatments every three weeks. Then, she was finally cleared.
“It’s not technically a cancer, it’s either active or deactive, you’re not in remission,” said Paul. “She’ll have scans every three months for the next few years and hopefully when she’s in year 5 we can go to annual scans.”
Stella is now off antibiotics and the family is happy to see her back to her normal self, with no visible scars and damage to her eyesight. “We’re really happy,” added Paul, “and hopefully it continues.”
The family is thankful to the Royal Children’s Hospital for being with them every step of Stella’s treatment and offering support. Providing them with a course during treatment that taught the parent’s how to deal with struggling with dark thoughts and gave them a tool kit for handling stress.
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