I assumed my three-year-old was just ill but it was stage four cancer


Parents of a cancer-stricken toddler have today revealed how they assumed her symptoms were down to a virus instead.

Ava Bolton, from East Ayrshire, Scotland, had bruising around her eyes and started walking with a limp around Christmas time.

Soon after, the three-year-old became sick, pale and lethargic.

Her parents, Scott and Natalie, both 34, thought it was a virus but after the little one refused to walk they took her to a GP. 

Ava was referred to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow in mid-January.

Ava Bolton, from Scotland, was diagnosed with with high-risk, stage four, neuroblastoma

Ava Bolton, from Scotland, was diagnosed with with high-risk, stage four, neuroblastoma

Doctors initially thought it was Transient Erythroblastopenia of childhood (TEC) - a slow developing anemia meaning she had low iron in her blood

Doctors initially thought it was Transient Erythroblastopenia of childhood (TEC) – a slow developing anemia meaning she had low iron in her blood

Ava, who is pictured with her brother Lucas, had bruising around her eyes and started walking with a limp around Christmas time, before becoming sick, pale and lethargic

Ava, who is pictured with her brother Lucas, had bruising around her eyes and started walking with a limp around Christmas time, before becoming sick, pale and lethargic

Blood tests and a bone marrow sample revealed she had stage four neuroblastoma which had spread throughout her body.

A CT scan showed it had reached her back, shoulders, pelvis, hip and shin. 

WHAT IS NEUROBLASTOMA?

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that affects children and usually starts in the abdomen. 

Around 100 children, who are typically under five, are diagnosed every year in the UK.

The disease affects approximately 800 new children annually in the US.  

In around half of cases, neuroblastoma spreads to other parts of the body, particularly the liver and skin.

Neuroblastoma’s cause is unclear. There may be a family-history link.

The main symptom is usually a lump in the abdomen, which may cause swelling, discomfort or pain.

If the disease affects the spinal cord, it can lead to numbness, weakness and loss of movement in the lower part of the body.

Treatment depends on how advanced the cancer is and the risk it will return after therapy.

Surgery, and chemo and radiotherapy, are commonly used.

Source: Cancer Research UK 

Natalie, a primary care nurse, said their family’s ‘whole world collapsed’ and they are  ‘utterly devastated’.

Ava is said to have been very healthy and only ever caught the odd cold before the diagnosis.

Doctors also initially told the parents they suspected it to be transient erythroblastopenia of childhood (TEC) — a type of anaemia.

Neuroblastoma mainly affects babies and young children. It develops from specialised nerve cells — neuroblasts — left behind from a baby’s development in the womb.

By stage four, the cancer has spread to parts of the body that are some distance from where it started — most commonly to the bones, bone marrow or liver.

Some 100 children in the UK and 800 youngsters in the US are diagnosed with the rare cancer every year, which is most common in under-fives. 

Around half of those diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma will live for five years after their diagnosis.

Discussing her daughter’s diagnosis, Natalie said: ‘She takes it all in her stride.

‘She has made us very proud of how she is coping with everything.

‘She’s always had a smile on her face and is a little chatterbox – keeping all of the staff amused with her antics.

‘But she does miss being at home spending time with her brother, Lucas, five, and her nursery friends.’

Ava will spend six weeks in an isolation room for six weeks in hospital and once she has recovered from chemo, she will have targeted radiotherapy before having six months of immunotherapy.

Her mother Natalie, 34,  knew something was right with her little girl when she refused to walk

Her mother Natalie, 34,  knew something was right with her little girl when she refused to walk

Natalie and Scott, 34, said their 'whole world collapsed' and they are is 'utterly devastated'

Natalie and Scott, 34, said their ‘whole world collapsed’ and they are is ‘utterly devastated’

Ava will spend six weeks in an isolation room for six weeks in hospital and once she has recovered from chemotherapy, she will have targeted radiotherapy before having six months of immunotherapy

Ava will spend six weeks in an isolation room for six weeks in hospital and once she has recovered from chemotherapy, she will have targeted radiotherapy before having six months of immunotherapy

Ava's family are now raising money to send her to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York for a new vaccination treatment which aims to stop neuroblastoma from returning

Ava’s family are now raising money to send her to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York for a new vaccination treatment which aims to stop neuroblastoma from returning

Scans show the toddler’s disease is ‘moving in the right direction’.

Her family are now raising money to send her to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York for a new vaccination treatment which aims to stop the disease from returning.

The vaccine is designed to trigger the patient’s body to make antibodies to attack the cancer cells. 

It is not currently available in the UK, but the family have raised £107,000 to date – nearly half of their £250,000 target.

Natalie said: ‘We are hopeful that we will reach our target – we are almost halfway after only two months and have had an amazing response from our local community.

‘We have spoken with various families who have been through or are currently going through the treatment from MSK in New York with great results so far which gives us hope and confidence in the treatment.

‘Without this treatment, Ava is more likely to relapse reducing her chances of survival – this is something we are not willing to take a chance on.’



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