A mother revealed a disturbing hidden sign her 14-month-old daughter had eye cancer.
Isla Ballol’s two mothers, Rebecca and Charlotte Ballol, noticed her eyes moving strangely while playing with toys during Christmas 2020.
Fearing her eye might look like it was “wheezing” around it, the mums from Putney in London called their GP.
In January 2021, after weeks of tests, doctors diagnosed Isla, now three years old, with retinoblastoma in her right eye – a rare and serious form of eye cancer.
Isla has now undergone chemotherapy, which has “done its job” and shrunk the tumor. However, the child is still receiving treatment to keep it under control, and he also has poor vision.
Isla Palul shows a glow in her right eye. This only became clear to her parents after she started her treatment
Isla Balol, now three, with her mum Rebecca (left), 35, and Charlotte (center), 36. Rebecca said her daughter’s eye was “wheezing” before she was diagnosed.
Isla Palul in hospital during treatment April 2021 – little boy diagnosed on January 28th at Moorfields Eye Clinic
Isla Palul with the CHECT Champion Medal at Oxford having been awarded the CHECT Champion Award by the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust for her bravery
Her parents, who also have a five-month-old son, Theo, have been warning others about symptoms to look out for since their daughter’s ordeal.
‘I remember playing with Isla on the floor, and she looked at a toy and then she looked at me,’ said Rebecca, 35.
“When she looked up, her right eye wriggled to the side and back again as if she couldn’t focus.”
Rebecca said that she and her wife would notice that Isla’s eyes “wobble sometimes,” but they assumed she had a lazy eye and might need glasses.
They had a telephone appointment with a GP between Christmas and New Year’s, due to lockdown, and were referred to the Children’s Clinic at St George’s Hospital in Tooting.
During the appointment, which Charlotte, 36, was not allowed in due to Covid rules, the doctor performed a red reflex test — a check of pupillary reflexes that can help identify eye abnormalities.
The paramedic referred Isla to the hospital’s eye clinic.
During this appointment, Isla’s left eye was covered to examine the movements of her right eye.
Her right eye, which was dilated, “couldn’t focus on anything and was moving all over the place,” Rebecca said.
The doctor then tells her that there is a lump in Isla’s eye, which causes Rebecca to become angry.
“I cried and Isla looked at me completely happy and probably wondering what was going on,” she said.
About 40 to 50 young people in the UK, and 200 to 300 in the US, are diagnosed with retinoblastoma each year, which usually affects infants and children under six years of age.
Retinoblastoma occurs when cells in the eye’s retina — which are supposed to grow very quickly and then stop growing during a child’s early development — continue to grow and form cancer.
When a tumor forms, light reflects off the surface of the white cancer, causing the dilated pupils to appear white in flashing images or dim light.
Isla Balol (pictured August 2022) was just 14 months old when her parents Rebecca, 35, and Charlotte, 36, noticed her eyes were moving strangely as she played with toys around Christmas in 2020
Isla Ballol rings the bell with her mother at Great Ormond Street Hospital in May 2021 after completing her chemotherapy treatment
Isla Palul receiving the CHECT Champion Award at Oxford with Support Worker Lina in 2022
Isla Ballol with her moms Rebecca (right), Charlotte (left) and her five-month-old brother Theo
Its symptoms include an unusual white reflection in the pupil and around a red or inflamed eye and double vision.
About 98 percent of children survive retinoblastoma.
But the Children’s Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) says early detection is critical to saving sight and lives.
It wasn’t until after Isla was photographed that the most common symptom of retinoblastoma was noticed with a post-flash diagnosis, Rebecca warned, was the appearance of a white “glow” in the eye.
A retinoblastoma clinical nurse from the Royal London Hospital called the family on the night of her diagnosis to advise them that Isla would appear the following week.
Six days later, on 28 January 2021, the tumor was confirmed as stage D retinoblastoma at the Royal London Hospital.
Doctors believe Isla’s eye can be saved, because they told the family it was a small, stage D tumor.
The child first had a lumbar puncture – a thin needle inserted between the bones at the bottom of the spine to take a fluid sample – and an MRI to make sure the cancer had not spread.
Isla Balol in hospital for treatment in March 2021 – two months after being diagnosed with retinoblastoma
Isla Palul with her mom and CHECT Support Manager, Craig, as she received her award for her bravery
Isla Ballol with her brother Theo at Christmas 2022 – two years after when her mum noticed her wheezing
Isla Palul in the hospital during treatment. She completed six rounds of chemotherapy in May 2021
Then a port was installed in her chest to perform chemotherapy and take blood samples.
She started the first of six rounds of chemotherapy on 5 February 2021, having multiple infections during that time which resulted in multiple hospitalizations – one of which was at GOSH.
Fortunately, the chemotherapy “did its job,” according to Rebecca, and Isla’s tumor shrank.
But Rebecca said that while the tumor is now stable, there are “small seeds of tumor” growing in her eye. As a result, she requires cryotherapy — the use of extreme cold to freeze and remove abnormal tissue — to control the cancer.
Rebecca said Isla remained happy and smiling throughout her treatment, and she struggles through chemotherapy “like a little soldier.”
And in 2022, she was awarded the CHECT Champion Award for her bravery.
Isla now has double vision in her right eye and sometimes struggles to walk down the steps or keep her balance.
Richard Ashton, chief executive of CHECT, said: ‘The symptoms (of retinoblastoma) can be very subtle and children often look fine in their own right which can make it difficult to diagnose. In just under half of all cases, a child’s eye will have to be removed as part of their treatment.
He added that the urgent referral we have to thank for did not happen for Isla, and urged other parents who notice symptoms to have their child seen by a health professional as soon as possible.
What is a retinoblastoma?
Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer that usually affects children under the age of five.
Because it is usually caught early in the UK, 98 per cent of children with this disease are successfully treated.
About 50 children develop this condition each year in Britain.
It affects up to 300 young people annually in the United States.
Retinoblastoma is a cancer that specifically affects the retina, which is the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye.
It can affect one eye or both eyes.
A faulty gene is responsible in about 40 percent of cases. This can be inherited from the patient’s parents or it may occur spontaneously.
The most common symptoms are the appearance of the pupil like a cat’s eye and a child who has strabismus.
The cat eye look is most commonly seen in photos.
Small tumors can usually be treated with laser or cryotherapy.
Larger tumors may require chemotherapy or surgery.
Source: NHS Choices