A mother is urging parents to ‘trust their instincts’ after a minor change in her baby son’s eye turned out to be a rare cancer that killed him months later.
While on vacation, Jessica and Lee Neal, 35 and 38, noticed their son Ted’s face swelling.
They assumed he had rubbed sand into his eye at the beach, but Jessica had a feeling something wasn’t quite right.
The eight-month-old had a cancerous tumor in one of his sinuses, which was so rare that it didn’t even have a name until January 2022.
Tragically, the cancer spread to his brain and down his spinal cord. Ted died on April 9, 2022, at the age of 16 months.
Ted had an unspecified sarcoma in his ethmoid sinus, which has now been identified as mesenchymal chondrosarcoma.
Chemotherapy and surgery were ineffective in saving the toddler.
Jessica, on the other hand, is glad she followed her instincts and went to the hospital when she did.
She says it gave her eight more happy months with him.
Jessica, a product developer, from Calverton, Nottingham, explained: ‘I’m so glad I trusted my instincts as I think we would have lost him sooner if I hadn’t.
‘It gave us that eight months with him.’
‘His eye hadn’t swelled that much when I took him in but I just had a feeling and within a week his face had completely changed and we had the diagnosis.’
‘Suddenly he was started on chemotherapy and our lives had changed.’
‘He battled so hard and he was such a happy boy though it all.’
‘Sadly he lost his life when the cancer spread to his brain but we’ll have those eight months of memories forever.’
Jessica and Lee, a learning mentor, became concerned when they noticed Ted’s eye was misshapen while on a family vacation in Wales.
Jessica said: ‘I couldn’t put my finger on what was different about it, it wasn’t inflamed or sore, but it was starting to look like it was protruding.
‘Throughout the week it was gradually becoming more obvious and when I pointed it out to Lee and he could see it too.
‘When we got home, we took him to the emergency department at Nottingham’s Queen’s Medical Centre, really hoping that we were overreacting.
‘I was expecting them to tell us nothing was wrong – but they didn’t.’
‘As parents it’s the worst thing you could find out, and the unknown type of sarcoma is incredibly rare and so is where it was in Ted’s body, so finding out it’s not going to be easy to treat is the worst thing.
‘There’s no known treatment plan and there’s no known process.’
Ted underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, which shrunk the tumor, before undergoing surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital in December 2021 to remove the majority of it.
‘They took out as much as they could,’ Jessica said.
‘He seemed to be doing really well.
‘They had to lift off his face to take out the bones around his eye and on the right side of his nose.
‘We had him home ten days after which was amazing.’
Ted was able to spend Christmas at home with his brothers Ben, 16, and Charlie, 14.
The tot went in for further chemotherapy in the New Year and his parents started to spot a lump on his forehead.
‘I wasn’t really worried about it at first- I thought it was just a virus,’ Jessica said.
‘But they couldn’t work out what it was.’
An ultrasound showed it was Ted’s brain pushing forward, due to a gap in his skull which had been removed during surgery.
‘He had to be rushed for emergency surgery to have a drain put in to relieve the pressure,’ Jessica said.
‘We were actually told he was cancer free at that point.
‘But Ted started to go down hill and doctors were desperately trying to work out why.’
In March 2022, a test revealed cancer had spread to his brain and down his spinal cord.
‘I was really shocked,’ Jessica said.
‘We just weren’t expecting it.
‘It was like a layer of sand had covered his brain.
‘They put a port in his brain for chemotherapy to make him comfortable but we were told there was nothing more that could be done.
‘It was devastating.’
Doctors stopped the chemotherapy and Ted passed away ten days later on April 9, 2022.
‘It was so sudden and horrific,’ Jessica said.
‘Nothing prepares you for losing a child.
‘But we’ve kept busy and set up a charity in his honor to help families with a seriously ill child or bereaved family have a peaceful getaway.
‘We’re doing a walk for Ted every year on the day he died to raise money.
‘I have so many happy memories from the last eight months Ted was with us- even though it was tough.
‘I would urge anyone to trust their instincts if they think something is wrong.
‘Even if it just gives you piece of mind.’