A mum who thought her little girl had ice in her eye after a snowball fight says it turned out to be a rare cancer.
Gina Hickson, 29, noticed an unusual white glow in her daughter Darcey-Rose’s left pupil, but left it at that as she thought it was just a fragment of ice.
However, when the cloudiness persisted in the three-year-old’s eye, the mum thought she might need glasses. Gina then took her daughter to the GP to be checked over in February 2021.
Mum Gina, from Westgate-on-sea, Kent, said: “We just saw a mass, like a cloud, in Darcey-Rose’s eye.
“It would change shape depending on where her eye was directed. Initially, we thought it was ice in her eye from a snowball fight.
“I Googled it and it took me to the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust’s website – which I instantly dismissed.”
At first, the mum wasn’t too worried about her daughter’s eye at first and put it down to “vision tracking” as “Darcey-Rose had a slight lazy eye”.
Darcey-Rose was then referred a specialist and underwent vision screening and scans to determine what was wrong.
Her mum said: “When she then had a scan, in the room there were posters on the wall with visuals on what to look out for, and how different eye conditions are seen on the screen – I found the cancer image and just held my breath.
“The right eye on the scan was clear and the left eye had a huge black mass.
“When we left the room a woman came and gave Darcey-Rose a toy.
“I looked at Michael and told him to prepare himself – saying I thought Darcey-Rose had got cancer.”
Heartbreakingly, Gina and her partner, Michael, 34, were told their little girl had retinoblastoma – a rare eye cancer that typically affects children under the age of six.
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.
The couple “broke down” when they received the news, with Gina adding: “Michael was playing with her on the floor, I was sick in the corner.
“Our world fell apart. Everything stood still but was also blurry around us”.
In March last year, the tot began the first out of six rounds of chemotherapy at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, before going into remission.
Despite this, medics tragically found more cancer in Darcey-Rose’s eye.
Following this, her parents were given two devastating options – their daughter could either have chemotherapy injections in her eye, or have her eye completely removed.
Gina said: “We did consider both options and as the direct injections would be done under anaesthetic, she wouldn’t know any different to her normal treatment.
“We booked in the chemotherapy for the 29th June. Her vision was better and worth fighting to save.
“Darcey-Rose was incredible, she went down happy and we went off to the cafe for a coffee, expecting it to go well.
“But after 20 minutes my phone rang, and we were told to come back. When I say we ran, we sprinted.”
Speaking about the horror that then ensued, Gina said the tumour continued spreading around her little girl’s retina.
And with the chemotherapy not working as it should, Darcey-Rose had to have her left eye removed.
Gina added: “Her tumour had spread around the retina, the chemotherapy wasn’t an ideal choice anymore.
“When they said they were going to have to remove her eye, and the choice was taken, I felt pure fear.”
The tot was fitted with a prosthetic and understands she has a “special eye because of her poorly one”.
Despite this, the mum from Kent says Darcey-Rose takes everything in her stride, adding: “She is just the funniest, sass pot I’ve ever met. She makes me laugh every day.
“She’s so clever, and inquisitive. She made every trip easier with her sheer zest for life. She loves sports and also horse riding, despite only having vision in one eye”.
Gina will now be running the London Marathon in October to raise funds for the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, who supported the family.
She said: “The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust has been amazing support throughout all of this time.”