SUFFERING with stomach cramps and abnormal bleeding, doctors put Sophie Fairall’s symptoms down to the start of her period.
In July 2020, the 10-year-old felt unwell and had been struggling to eat in the morning when she woke up.
Her mum Charlotte said this was on and off for around a month, but their GP dismissed the symptoms as being down to Sophie’s menstrual cycle.
Charlotte was unhappy with the diagnosis so took her daughter to A&E and was shocked to discover that she had a lump.
Her little girl was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer – rhabdomyosarcoma – a soft tissue sarcoma that can occur at any age, but most often presents in children.
Sophie was an inspiration and raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity.
Sadly, she died in September 2021 after going through a range of surgeries.
Speaking on This Morning, mum Charlotte recalled how medics revealed Sophie had a 12cm tumor in her abdomen.
Sophie was rushed into surgery and due to coronavirus restrictions, Charlotte, Sophie’s dad Gareth and her two siblings were forced to spend weeks away from Sophie.
“They said to me it’s cancer and they’ve managed to remove 95 per cent of the tumor but they couldn’t remove it all, so then we started treatment with chemo.
“She was quite adamant that they were going to make her better. She kept saying, ‘Doctors make you better and I know they will for me’.
“She just had that positive outlook all the way through. She painted ceramics while in hospital because she wanted more toys and activities,” Charlotte said.
Sophie had several surgeries and underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
In June last year, Sophie’s cancer returned and the family decided to draw up a list of activities she could do.
These included cooking with TV chef Gordon Ramsey, and raising £50,000 for the children’s cancer charity Alice’s Arc.
But the most important thing on little Sophie’s bucket list, her mum said, was to make a change for other families who have to deal with childhood cancer.
Sophie wanted to create a greater awareness of cancer symptoms in children and a House of Commons debate is today being held into childhood cancer outcomes.
What is rhabdomyosarcoma?
Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a type of soft tissue sarcoma that grows in active muscles of the body.
They are extremely rare – about 3,300 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK.
These are muscles we control (for example, to move arms or legs).
The most common places for rhabdomyosarcoma are the head, neck, bladder, vagina, arms, legs and trunk of the body.
Very rarely, rhabdomyosarcoma can also be found in other places, such as in the prostate gland, middle ear and bile duct system.
There are three types of rhabdomyosarcoma which affect different age groups:
- Embryonic rhabdomyosarcoma
- Most common in young children, often appears in the head and neck region and especially in tissues around the eye
- Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma
- Tends to occur in older children and adolescents, occurs more often in the arms, legs, chest or abdomen
- Pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcoma
- Typically occurs in middle-aged people; for unknown reasons it’s slightly more common in men than women
What are the symptoms:
- a lump that you can see or feel
- blockage or discharge from the nose
- changes in swallowing
- changes in hearing
- swollen eye
- bread in the stomach
- difficulty passing stools
- blood in your pee
- vaginal discharge
- needing to pee more often
Charlotte said you hear childhood cancer is rare and think it will never happen to your family.
She said: “You think of all the other signs and symptoms, and think, ‘Oh it will be other things’.
“Now I know it’s one in 450 children that get childhood cancer, I would’ve probably been different.
“She had some of the real red flags. Abnormal bleeding is definitely a red flag, stomach pain and consistent pains in the stomach was another one, and that feeling of nausea.
“We know all children feel sick but it’s the persistence of it. Those were all flags – but I didn’t know the signs and symptoms.
‘”I asked lots of people, ‘Do you know if your child had cancer, would you know the signs and symptoms to look out for?’.”
Charlotte is hoping that by going to parliament, she will be able to change the way children are diagnosed.
She said that a lot of children are diagnosed at stage three or four and that this process needs to be faster as the outcome is better the sooner an illness is caught.
“We want a national campaign of the signs and symptoms of childhood cancer, so that the public are aware, alongside training for GPs and nurse practitioners, because once they qualify there is no current course on childhood cancer they can access.
“There’s a huge loophole in that,” she added.
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