The family of a young girl diagnosed with cancer days before her first birthday are looking forward to celebrating their own Christmas “miracle” tomorrow.
The sight of presents under the tree will be extra special for brave Elsie Mottram, one, after a rare form of the disease meant she could barely see her birthday presents in July.
But after five months of gruelling chemotherapy, she’s winning the fight against the cancer and will be able to enjoy unwrapping her gifts with her family at their Cleveleys home.
Mum Frankie Butterworth, 29, said: “It feels like a complete miracle to us.
“We can’t wait to celebrate Christmas with Elsie now that she can see the lights, the tree and her presents. I feel like my little girl can be herself now, she has nothing to hold her back anymore, she’s like a completely different child, she’s amazing.”
Just two weeks before her first birthday, Elsie was diagnosed with retinoblastoma – a rare type of childhood eye cancer that usually affects children under the age of five.
A common symptom is a glow in the eyes, visible on photographs, but much to the surprise of doctors was not detected in Elsie’s case.
Frankie – who lives on Leicester Avenue with fiancee Dan Mottram and her three children – said they knew something was wrong when Elsie began to crawl into walls.
She took her to the GP, who told her to get Elsie’s eyes tested.
“But I was so worried about her I didn’t want to wait for an optician appointment,” the 29-year-old added.
“So I took her straight to A&E the same night, and thank God I did.
“I knew there was something wrong, I trusted my gut and I took her straight to hospital to be on the safe side.”
Medics at Blackpool Victoria Hospital gave them the devastating diagnosis. Her parents were warned there was a chance she may lose her sight entirely.
Frankie said: “We were told Elsie had tumours in both eyes, but we caught the symptoms early.
“Doctors said there was a possibility she would continue to lose the sight in her eyes, and even become completely blind.
“We ended up spending a lot of time going back and forth between Blackpool Vic and Manchester Children’s Hospital so Elsie could have chemotherapy to shrink her tumours.
“They made her feel so comfortable, all of the nurses really went above and beyond for her.”
The diagnosis was “a little bit less scary”, Frankie said, as she was also diagnosed with cancer at the age of 19.
She had Hodgkin Lymphoma, another rare form of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system.
She went through a year of chemotherapy treatment and the removal of a tumour. Because she had been there herself, she was ready for it, Frankie said.
Elsie began chemotherapy sessions, as well as laser treatment once a month at Birmingham Children’s Hospital to shrink the tumours in her eye, and help her to regain her diminishing sight.
Frankie had to leave her job as a dental nurse at Whitegate Drive health centre to care for Elsie, because her immune system was too low for her to go to nursery.
She said she was grateful for the support of family and friends as well as Anchorsholme Academy, the school Elsie’s brothers Charlie, 11, and Ollie, five, attend.
The family also got “incredible support” from London-based charity the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, which provides help and advice for families dealing with Retinoblastoma.
Frankie and Dan received a one-off grant of £250 from the charity to help with travel costs from their home in Cleveleys to the hospital in Birmingham and volunteers were always on hand at the hospital to support Elsie through her treatment.
On December 2, five months after beginning chemotherapy, Elsie finished her final session.
The chemotherapy successfully shrank her tumours and a turn in her eye has corrected.
Elsie now wears an eye patch to strengthen her weaker eye, and will continue to visit Birmingham Children’s Hospital once a month for laser surgery.
The family is now looking forward to being together at home over the festive season – with Elsie able to see her loved ones on Christmas.
Frankie said: “Because Elsie was diagnosed so close to her first birthday, she couldn’t see her presents properly.
“Her development has been delayed because of her sight, and she couldn’t walk because she couldn’t see where she was going.”
But at the beginning of December, Elsie took her first steps in time for Christmas, and has grown into a confident child who can walk without assistance.
Frankie added: “We’re the only family at Birmingham Children’s Hospital with a child who has vision in both eyes, it feels like a complete miracle to us.”
Elsie will go and ring the bell at Manchester Children’s Hospital on December 30, to mark the end of her chemotherapy journey in time for the New Year.
Frankie urged any parent who notices changes within their children’s eyes to see a medic immediately. She said: “If I hadn’t, things could be worse now, so always trust your instincts.”
Around 50-60 retinoblastoma cases are diagnosed every year in the UK.
It has one of the highest survival rates for cancers. An average of 98 per cent of children diagnosed will survive – but early detection is important.
One of the most common symptoms is a “glow” in the eye, where a glow in the pupil is visible in photographs.
The tumours present in the eyes release chemicals, causing the retina to detach from the eye.