hand of young child with IV in place
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
May 23, 2024 ·  4 min read

Toddler Diagnosed With Rare Cancer After Mom Spots Odd Detail in Holiday Photo

Parents are hyper-vigilant about their children’s health and well-being. Small things, however, can go unnoticed if you aren’t aware of them. This is what happened to this mom and her two-year-old toddler named George who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer after his mother spotted an unusual detail in a holiday photo. This heart-wrenching story highlights the importance of vigilance and parental instincts in identifying potential health concerns in young children. Through her quick thinking and concern, George’s mother may have saved his life.

A Rare Cancer: George’s Story

Victoria Walsh son George
An odd white circle appeared in George’s eye that raised immediate concern. Source: Tyla

The incident unfolded when Victoria Walsh, a 33-year-old mother, was on a vacation in Tenerife with her family. While capturing precious moments of her son, George, Victoria noticed something different in one of the photographs she took. An odd white circle appeared in George’s eye that raised immediate concern.

“We’d seen a funny glare in his eye with the naked eye and so I asked my mum about it and she asked if it was bright, I said I don’t think so and she recommended I take a photo in the dark with flash on. My mum recognized it as something bad because she had a friend who lost an eye to cancer.” Victoria recalled. (1)

Alarmed by this unusual detail, Victoria reached out to a friend who happened to be an optician. Acting swiftly, the friend advised Victoria to return to the United Kingdom for further examination. Cutting their holiday short, the family returned home after just six days and sought medical attention at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. After undergoing an ultrasound scan, the doctors delivered devastating news: George was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, an extremely rare form of eye cancer. The doctors quickly got to work removing the tumor to save little George’s life. Unfortunately, what could not be saved was his eyesight in the affected eye.

“Going back through old photos I noticed the glint when he was just three months old, if I had known then, I could have saved his eyesight,” Victoria said. “I do feel guilty – I could have spotted it sooner. But it wasn’t until spoke to my optician friend did I what to look for. I’m really hoping to raise awareness so other mum’s don’t have to go through this.”

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Understanding Retinoblastoma

Retinoblastoma (cancer type) diagnosis medical concept on tablet screen with stethoscope.
Source: Shutterstock

Retinoblastoma primarily affects children and originates in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. While the exact cause remains unknown, genetic factors are believed to play a significant role in its development. The disease is usually detected in children under the age of five, and it affects both eyes in about 60% of cases. If left untreated, retinoblastoma can spread to other parts of the body, including the brain and spinal cord. (2)

Signs and Symptoms

Leukocoria test with stethoscope , white pupil.
Source: Shutterstock

Retinoblastoma often presents with certain signs and symptoms that can help parents and healthcare professionals identify it early. These may include abnormal reflections in the eye, commonly described as a “white glow” or “cat’s eye reflex.” In some cases, the affected eye may appear red or swollen, and the child may experience vision problems or even demonstrate a squint. It is crucial for parents to be aware of these signs and seek prompt medical attention if they notice any abnormalities in their child’s eyes.

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Stages and Treatment Options

close up of the leukocoria during eye examination.
Source: Shutterstock

Upon diagnosis, the medical team swiftly devised a treatment plan for George. Given the nature of retinoblastoma and the urgency to prevent further spread, George underwent a course of  risky intra-arterial chemotherapy through the eye cavity. Unfortunately, due to the severity of the cancer, George lost his eyesight in the affected eye. 

A stroke team was on standby during the procedure, as the risk of complications was significant. The surgery lasted approximately 40 minutes, leaving George’s family anxiously waiting for updates in the ward. Thankfully, the operation was successful, and after close monitoring for two nights, George was able to return home, albeit with ongoing pain relief.

At present, George’s treatment is ongoing, and while he has managed to keep his remaining eye, the possibility of having it removed looms if the tumor grows or changes. George’s resilience shines through, as he copes with the challenges of his treatment, including night terrors and regular hospital visits.

Awareness is Key

white ribbon. White or light pearl color ribbon for raising awareness on Lung cancer, Bone cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Severe Combined Immune Deficiency Disease (SCID) and Newborn Screening  symbol.
Source: Shutterstock

George’s journey is a testament to the power of maternal intuition and the importance of early detection in pediatric health issues. Victoria’s vigilance and swift action may have saved George’s life, despite the unfortunate loss of his eyesight. This story serves as a reminder to all parents to be watchful and proactive in monitoring their children’s health, particularly when any unusual signs or symptoms arise.

The Walsh family’s experience underscores the significance of raising awareness about childhood cancer and the need for timely diagnosis. By sharing their story, they hope to encourage other parents to be proactive and seek medical advice if they notice any peculiarities in their child’s health. Through education and early detection, we can empower families to take preemptive action and ensure the well-being of their little ones.

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  1. Boy, 2, diagnosed with rare form of cancer after mum spotting unusual detail in holiday photo.” Tyla. Lucy Devine. May 2024.
  2. Understanding retinoblastoma: epidemiology and genetics.” NCBI. Ido Didi Fabianand Mandeep S Sagoo. 2018.