Brave Blackpool girl beats the odds to celebrate fifth birthday - after rare cancer with 75% mortality rate caused her stomach to swell like a balloon

A little Blackpool girl who was given just a 25 per cent chance or survival after an aggressive tumour caused her stomach to swell to the size of a beach ball defeated the odds - and celebrated her fifth birthday.

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 12:30 pm
Cleo with her sisters Emelia and Ellie-Mae
Cleo with her sisters Emelia and Ellie-Mae

Cleo Keenan was diagnosed with stage three adrenal carcinoma in April 2019 when she was just two-years-old.

The rare disease, which is caused by cancerous cells in the adrenal - or hormone - glands, has a mortality rate of up to 75 per cent.

Now, three years later, fighter Cleo is in remission, and on Tuesday celebrated the birthday her parents feared she would never see.

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Cleo and her mum Shannon

Her mum Shannon Latham, 25, said: "Cleo has been amazing. She had a few scares last year, but between ourselves and the doctors we have managed it. She's doing really well, her hair is growing, and she's started going to school.

"She's in remission from all the previous cancer. She's on steroids and will be for the rest of her life, because she had to have an adrenal gland removed, but we're just getting on with it and taking it day by day.

"After everything she had been through, and the constant ups and downs, we never thought she'd be here today. We were the ones who were scared, not her. She was always smiling and getting on with things, the way she always does."

Doctors first suspected the telltale swelling in Cleo's stomach was caused by a hormonal imbalance when her mum took her to Layton Medical Centre in February 2019.

Cleo shortly after having surgery to remove her tumour

But in March the toddler suffered from a stomach ache and was taken by Shannon to Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s A&E department, where a CT scan discovered the enormous tumour in her abdomen.

Since then, Cleo's life has been a rollercoaster of devastating ups and downs.

Rushed into Manchester Children's Hospital away from her mum, dad Ryan, 28, and sisters Emelia and Ellie-Mae, she underwent a seven hour operation to remove the tumour, her appendix and one of her adrenal glands.

In September 2019 tragedy struck, she suffered an adrenal crisis and went into cardiac arrest.

Shannon said: "I just remember about 20 doctors piling into the room and shouting ‘we need to start chest compressions’, then the resus trolley got brought in. Then (we) were dragged out the room. What felt like three hours was 10 minutes of waiting and crying in a panic on the phone to (Cleo's) nanny, crying so hard she couldn’t make out what I was saying.

"The doctors finally came in the room and it was just like in the movies when two doctors come in and tell you to take a seat. We thought she was gone, we thought we were never going to see or speak to her again, but when the doctor said she was trying to breathe on her own a massive sense of relief just hit us."

Cleo was eventually diagnosed with Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS), a genetic disorder resulting in a predisposition to rare cancers. Tragically, this means her chances of developing another tumour in the future remain high.

READ: Brave little Blackpool toddler Cleo Keenan has a tumour the size of a grapefruit and is facing an epic cancer battleShannon said: "Cleo has been in and out of hospital for the past two years. She'll be on cancer watch for the rest of her life. But I definitely think she will get through it. She's strong, and has beaten everything that has come her way.

"After her cardiac arrest, it was very scary. We knew if anything went wrong, she would get worse and worse, and there were times when we thought we would lose her.

"All we want now is to try to get back to a normal life. There will always be limitations and things she can't do - anything high-adrenaline, like rollercoasters at theme parks and certain sports, she will have to avoid - but we will just have to get on with it.

"She has to take steroids every six hours, four times a day, and she's really good at dealing with it herself now. She even tries to remind me about her medications.

"Cleo has grown into such a strong little girl. She loves being the centre of attention, TikTok, Roblox, and her tablet. She's at that age where her interests are changing every day.

"The past year, with Covid-19, living with a severely immunocomprimised child has been difficult. Our other children have struggled as well, because they couldn't understand why we were never there, because we were constantly in and out of hospital. We're now looking forward to our family being a family again. We're spending more time together as a whole."