Girl’s ‘back-to-school nerves’ actually symptoms of watermelon-sized tumour

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A mum who thought her daughter's stomach ache was caused by back-to-school nerves during the holidays was horrified to find out it was in fact a cancerous tumour the size of a watermelon.

Eight-year-old Olivia's symptoms worsened and her parents, Siân and Chris Rodney, feared it might be appendicitus.

She was rushed to hospital to have it removed, but when doctors discovered a mass in the girl's abdomen they thought it was an abscess.

However, it was a watermelon-sized tumour, with tests revealing it to be Burkitt Lymphoma, a rare and fast-growing cancer of the lymphatic system.

Siân, 39, of Bedford, said: "Nobody ever dreams they will have to deal with childhood cancer.

"When it's suddenly in front of you, you feel like a rabbit caught in headlights with no idea what to do."

Usually fit and healthy, Olivia first starting telling her mum that she was tired during their regular 20-minute walks into town at the end of summer in 2019.

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The eight-year-old seemed to return to normal, but in early October she started saying that her tummy was hurting.

As she was eating normally and didn't show signs of a bug, Siân began to wonder whether she was feeling anxious about going to school.

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She explained: "I thought perhaps something was going on or that she had developed anxiety.

"She's quite a quiet child, so it wouldn't have been unusual for her to be feeling overwhelmed."

She added: “But, by December, things got worse. Before, she’d talk about her tummy sporadically, but over Christmas it started being every other day, then after New Year, it was daily. Whenever I asked her to show me where the pain was, though, she couldn’t.”

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In January 2020, her mum was worried and took Olivia to see her GP, who referred her to Bedford Hospital.

A scan revealed a mass around her abdomen, which doctors initially believed to be an abscess that had formed around her appendix.

She was pumped with intravenous antibiotics in a bid to banish any infection.

After five days, her temperature spiked overnight and doctors raced her to theatre for emergency surgery.

Siân said: “They planned to remove her appendix, thinking it had burst.

“As Chris and I waited for her to come back from theatre, another mum said to us, ‘Don’t worry, my little one just had their appendix out and they were back within 90 minutes. It won’t be long.’”

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She continued: “But 90 minutes came and went, then two hours, then two and a half. I began to really worry, and said to Chris, ‘This hasn’t been a straightforward appendix removal, has it?’

“After three hours, a consultant appeared, ashen-faced. I took one look at him and just started crying, ‘Where’s my baby?’”

The mass turned out to be something more sinister and they were referred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. On February 2,  an oncologist diagnosed Olivia with Burkitt Lymphoma, which only 210 new cases are seen each year in the UK.

Olivia went under eight rounds of aggressive chemotherapy during the national lockdown, and is now fortunately cancer-free.

Siân said the silver lining has been lockdown helped keep Olivia away from bugs and coughs due to people self-isolating and large areas of the country shutting down.

Thankfully, tests carried out at the end of June found Olivia to be cancer-free and she has been healthy ever since.

  • Cancer
  • NHS
  • Family

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