A mother who thought her five-year-old daughter was being abused after finding blood clots in the toilet has revealed her devastation at learning the little girl was actually suffering from a deadly form of cancer.
Lauren Ouzts Lee, 32, from South Carolina, was baffled when she kept finding blood clots in the toilet in June 2018.
When it became clear no one else in the family was responsible, Lauren asked her daughter Emma, who was just five years old at the time, if it was hers.
The scared little girl confirmed that the blood was hers – and that it had been happening for several days.
Horrified, Lauren became concerned something had happened to her daughter and was determined to get to the bottom of it.
Struggle: A South Carolina mother has revealed how she learned that her five-year-old daughter was suffering from a deadly form of cancer after finding blood in the toilet
Fighter: Lauren Ouzts Lee, 32, began finding blood clots in the toilet back in June 2018 and when she questioned her daughter Emma, the little revealed she had been bleeding
Upset: Initially, Lauren feared that her daughter had been abused or harmed in some way – but when Emma insisted she hadn’t been, the mother took her to see a doctor
As she and husband Andrew drove Emma to hospital, she was forced to ask the unthinkable – if someone had hurt her.
‘We had to ask all sorts of horrible questions,’ Lauren, a stay-at-home mother, told Jam Press.
‘We asked her if anyone had touched her down there and she told us no.
‘We asked if she had fallen and hit herself down there, and again she said no.
‘We asked if her belly hurt even though we knew it was way too early for her to start her period, and she said no.’
Desperate to know what had happened, they took Emma to the emergency room, where doctors took urine samples and ran her vitals.
They initially believed she had a bad urinary tract infection (UTI) and gave her antibiotics.
Lauren said: ‘We were relieved that everything seemed to be OK and, even though the UTI was severe, it would be fine – or so we thought.’
Uphill battle: At first, doctors told Lauren that her daughter was suffering from a severe urinary tract infection and prescribed antibiotics to treat it
Ongoing: Days after starting her antibiotics, Emma was still in agony, so Lauren took her back to the doctor to get a second opinion
Devastating: Emma was given an ultrasound, which revealed a mass on her kidney, and an MRI, from which doctors determined the little girl had a Wilms tumor
Diagnosis: Wilms tumor, also known as nephroblastoma, is a rare type of kidney cancer most commonly found in children between the ages of three and four
The bleeding stopped three days later on the Friday, but by Sunday morning Emma was cold, pale and screaming that she was in pain, so Lauren took her back to the hospital to seek a second opinion.
They filled in the new doctor and were stunned when the medic said they didn’t believe it was a UTI after all – and ordered scans and lab work.
‘They did an ultrasound on her and I jokingly told Emma that she looked like she had an alien monster in her belly to try and get a laugh out of her,’ Lauren said.
‘I didn’t know what I was actually looking at – or the fact that there really was a monster in there.’
After waiting for ‘what felt like forever’, they received the results – there was a mass in Emma’s kidney.
Although doctors said it could be a stone that needed to be removed, they ordered an MRI scan and another urine sample.
They went home and the following day received a call from a surgeon telling them to come in – and be ready to stay for a week.
Lauren explained: ‘The surgeon said that her whole kidney needed to come out ASAP – I think he realized then that we were confused, and he asked if we had seen the MRI results.
‘We hadn’t, so he showed us and said that she had a Wilms tumor.
Progress: Emma (pictured with her mom and sibling Jason) had to undergo a four-hour surgery to remove her kidney, before enduring six months of chemo, which caused her hair to fall out
Brave: Lauren was devastated when most of her daughter’s trademark red hair fell out – but was comforted by her poorly daughter, who reassured her that it would grow back
Milestone: In December 2018, Emma had finally finished chemotherapy and got to ring the bell to signal the end of her treatment – just in time for her sixth birthday
Going strong: By the end of 2021, Emma will have been in remission for three years, however she still has to be careful about her lifestyle because she only has one kidney
‘I didn’t know some of the terminology like Andrew did – he had lost his mom to breast cancer.
‘He knew instantly that it was cancer and started to cry. I was in such a state of shock. I felt numb and didn’t know how to think or feel.’
Wilms tumor, also known as nephroblastoma, is a rare type of kidney cancer most commonly found in children between the ages of three and four.
‘At first we weren’t sure what the tumor meant – if it would take her life or how long she would need to have chemo for,’ Lauren said.
‘We told her older brother Jason, now 12, first what was going on and he knew what cancer could do, so he instantly started crying, not knowing what would happen to his sister.
‘We also told family and close friends, who quickly rallied around us and even raised some funds for Andrew and Jason to stay nearby while we were in hospital.
‘I never thought our family would be the one you see staying at the Ronald McDonald house that you see on TV.’
In June, Emma had her kidney removed in a four-hour surgery, as well as the renal vein and some lymph nodes from the area that were inflamed.
The surgeon said her cancer was at stage two and that Emma would need two different types of chemotherapy – including vincristine, which would cause hair loss.
Caution: Emma (pictured with her brother Jason) will continue to get regular scans to make sure that her cancer has not returned
Healing: The little girl’s trademark red hair has now grown back – and Lauren said she now wants to become a nurse or a doctor when she is older
The deadly cancer that attacks children: What is nephroblastoma?
Nephroblastoma, which is also referred to as Wilms tumor, is a rare cancer that starts in the kidneys and typically affects young children between the ages of three and four.
It is the most common form of kidney cancer found in children and accounts for nine out of every ten kidney cancer cases in kids.
Wilms tumor usually occurs in just one kidney, however in very rare cases it can affect both.
Symptoms include abdominal swelling, abdominal pain, blood in the urine, fever, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite and high blood pressure.
Treatment varies on a case-to-case basis and is based largely on the stage of the cancer, however the majority of children have to have at least part of their kidney removed in order to prevent the disease from spreading.
Many patients also undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation to kill off cancer cells in the body.
Lauren was devastated when most of her daughter’s trademark red hair fell out – but was comforted by her poorly daughter.
She said: ‘She saw me crying about it but was still her sweet self and told me, “Mommy it’s OK, it’s just hair and it will grow back.”‘
Emma went through six months of chemotherapy, which would turn her body ‘red all over’ and spike a fever in a nasty reaction – leading to almost weekly trips to the hospital, where doctors were stumped.
The unpleasant side effect turned out to be an allergic reaction to one of the antibiotics she had been given alongside chemotherapy, and was quickly remedied.
In December 2018, Emma had finally finished chemotherapy and got to ring the bell to signal the end of her treatment – just in time for her sixth birthday.
It was another six months before she could have the port-a-cath removed – which had been administering her medication – and so one year after her initial diagnosis, Emma was finally free to resume her happy, healthy childhood.
At one kidney down, she has to be careful not to play too roughly, but otherwise the sweet girl is busy enjoying a normal childhood – with her red locks back in place and longer than ever.
By the end of 2021, she will be at three years remission.
Lauren added: ‘Emma wants to be a doctor or a nurse when she grows up, and help other children going through what she did.
‘She is our brave, outgoing social butterfly and a redhead for sure – she’s a fireball and sweetheart all at the same time.
‘We pray that her scans continue to be clear and that our feisty, lovable girl can grow up and be whatever she wants to be.’