Doctors are highly trained, intelligent people and most of us gladly put our trust in them. So when one little girl was diagnosed with a simple eye infection, her mother thought little of it. However, the girl’s red, inflamed eye turned out to be a symptom of something much more serious…
Stella Robson hails from Melbourne, Australia, where she lives with her mom Gaylene, dad Paul and little sister Allie. And in December 2015 Stella was like any other care-free child. When she was getting ready to start at prep school, though, her mom noticed something wrong with her daughter’s eye.
Specifically, the lid of Stella’s right eye had become very red and begun to swell. As eye infections are common among children, Gaylene assumed that would be the only issue. But just to be sure, she took her little girl off to see a doctor.
Following a check-up, however, the doctor agreed that the problem was most likely to be an infection and duly wrote her a prescription for creams and antibiotics. Little Stella was told to go home and, within a few days, her symptoms were expected to clear up.
However, the very opposite occurred: not only did Stella’s puffy eye remain just the same, but she also began to experience headaches. Concerned, her mom decided to contact an ophthalmologist. And just to be sure, that doctor ordered an immediate CT scan.
What that scan uncovered was every mom and dad’s worst nightmare: Stella had a tumor between her brain and her eye. The situation was deemed so urgent, in fact, that the little girl was rushed to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
Once there, Stella underwent a range of tests. Moreover, she spent two whole days being scanned. And, at one point, six doctors all gathered around a scan of the little girl’s head as they tried to work out how best to treat her.
“The tumor was growing into the orbital bone, the bone that surrounds the eye… it was roughly 1.5 centimeters [half an inch] and shaped like a bell,” Gaylene told the Daily Mail in March 2016. Due to its size and location, the rapidly expanding growth could have potentially eroded Stella’s skull or blinded her.
After 48 agonizing hours, though, Stella was eventually diagnosed with a rare illness called Langerhans cell histiocytosis. In fact, cases of this disease are so unusual that medical professionals are uncertain of its cause, and there is a lack of research on the condition as a whole. At least Stella was now in expert hands.
Langerhans cell histiocytosis is not technically a cancer but is cancer-like in its behavior and the treatment it responds to. Symptoms can include skin rashes, a swollen stomach, breathing difficulties and – like Stella had – lumps on the skull. However, the illness does have a 90 percent survival rate.
And Stella eventually underwent surgery to have the tumor removed, with specialists going through a very small fold in her eyelid to pull out the growth. Thankfully, the doctors were able to do this without causing any damage to her brain.
Still, although the surgery was a success, Stella had a long journey ahead of her. While the rest of her classmates were enjoying their first days of school, for example, the fighter embarked on an intensive 12 weeks of chemotherapy. Poignantly, the chemo started on Christmas Eve.
But even though she was only a child, Stella amazed her parents with the way she dealt with the traumatic experience. “The words ‘cancer’ [and] ‘tumor’ didn’t mean anything to [Stella]. To an adult it’s a conversation stopper, but she just takes it in her stride,” her dad Paul told Australian newspaper the Geelong Advertiser in March 2016.
For her parents, however, the whole experience was emotionally taxing. “It was quite a little roller-coaster for her. She’d be emotional and hungry and tired, then she’d recover for a week and then it would be time to get back in and have another lot of treatment,” Gaylene explained to the Daily Mail.
“About nine months in we felt empty after running on adrenaline for so long. [The children’s hospital] had us do a course which taught us how to stop our minds racing and entering dark places and gave us a tool-kit to handle stress,” Paul added to the Geelong Advertiser. “As a parent, you learn about life and your priorities. I still struggle to talk about it.”
Furthermore, the chemotherapy left Stella’s immune system in a weakened state. “If her temperature went above 100°F it was a trip straight to the emergency department. We took her about seven or eight times,” Paul revealed to the Daily Mail.
However, after 12 months of treatment, Stella was finally deemed to be clear of her illness. And, although the disease has a 20 percent chance of recurrence, Stella is now able to live a normal life. Indeed, she not only has no visible signs of her ordeal but also boasts 20/20 vision.
“It’s not technically a cancer. It’s either active or deactive, you’re not in remission,” her dad said to the Geelong Advertiser. “She’ll have to have scans every three months for the next few years, and hopefully when she’s in year five we can go to annual scans.”
In the meantime, Stella’s parents are just thankful their daughter is now healthy. “She’s back,” Paul added. “We’re really happy, and hopefully it continues.” Meanwhile, recent images of the little girl show her enjoying her life, displaying no sign of her traumatic ordeal.
The admirable way Stella dealt with her illness is inspirational. And, thankfully, her mother’s instinct to get a second opinion on her daughter’s eye enabled her to start treatment quickly. Now, after overcoming so much, this little girl can finally get back to being a kid.