Mother reveals bruise on her toddler’s eye led to cancer diagnosis

‘Harper hasn’t lost her spark,’ her mother says

Katie Dollard
Tuesday 25 July 2023 21:21 BST
Related: Cancer survivor wears glittering eyeballs after losing left eye as baby

A couple were left devastated after a seemingly innocent bruise on their baby’s eye led to a shocking diagnosis.

Harper Walker was just 13 months old when, in February 2023, her parents noticed a small bruise under her right eye.

Jenny Huddart, 38, and Adam Walker, 36, realised that the dark tinge was growing into a full black eye over the space of a couple of weeks.

After four weeks, they noticed their daughter’s eye had changed shape and appeared out of alignment with her other eye.

While she remained her usual smiley self, her parents, who are both teachers, were concerned and took her to the GP – who they say didn’t appear worried.

“In general her health has always been fine, she’s usually happy, smiley, and bounces back from bugs relatively quickly,” Jenny, from Swinton, Greater Manchester, told “We went to see the doctor as soon as we noticed it, but the GP wasn’t concerned.

“We revisited again a couple weeks later, but she asked for us to return again in two weeks. However, I rang back afterwards and asked for a referral to an eye specialist, which was scheduled for the end of April.”

(Jam Press/Jenny Huddart)
(Jam Press/Jenny Huddart)
(Jam Press/Jenny Huddart)

But the situation escalated before the appointment, when they noticed her eye further out of alignment.

The worried parents rang 111 and were advised to take the child to A&E, and then referred to the eye hospital – who ordered scans, ran tests, and got the oncology team involved.

The results came back a few days later, which is when the parents were told it was a stage four, high-risk neuroblastoma – a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells found in several areas of the body.

The doctors explained to Jenny and Adam that the cancer originated in their daughter’s adrenal gland on her kidney and was now present in her limbs, ribs, hips, skull and bone marrow.

(Jam Press/Jenny Huddart)
(Jam Press/Jenny Huddart)
(Jam Press/Jenny Huddart)

Jenny added: “Honestly, to begin with we were just in total shock - it didn’t hit us fully at first. Then when it did, it was like the world had stopped. I think we both still feel like we are walking around in a daze at times.”

Harper immediately started treatment including chemotherapy, which she will continue until later this month, before having surgery to remove the tumour from her kidney.

After this, the little girl will have to undergo high-dose chemotherapy, having stem cells removed and frozen.

Jenny said: “Once the intensive chemotherapy is complete, Harper will have her stem cells returned to help her start to grow new, healthy blood cells.”

(Jam Press/Jenny Huddart)
(Jam Press/Jenny Huddart)

The child will then have radiotherapy to target the original site of the cancer – her kidney – to try and prevent it from returning. Finally, the toddler will have to undergo immunotherapy to spot and destroy cancer cells.

Despite her hardship, Jenny and Adam say Harper hasn’t changed and has been her best version of herself.

Jenny added: “Harper hasn’t lost her spark. She is so welcoming and smiley for the nursing team. She lost her hair a couple of weeks into treatment, so this did irritate Harper to the point of upset.

“Adam sat and removed all of her loose hair by hand, so she didn’t have to have it cut as this would scare her.”

Having finished induction chemotherapy, her family are awaiting news on how she is responding to treatment so far.

“Harper has stem cells harvested at the start of August and then, depending on the outcome from the scans, we will find out whether she has an operation to remove the primary tumour or onto high dose chemotherapy,” Jenny said. “She has coped well with the treatment overall, but has to have a blood count every three days as her platelets are permanently low, so she has had more transfusions than I care to count.

“We are hoping the scans show she is responding well, and the cancer has reduced. I’d love them to say it is no longer there, but I know that is a dream not reality.”

The child’s mother also revealed that Harper “still isn’t walking as one of the symptoms of neuroblastoma is to have weak or unsteady balance,” but that she is “trying and is slowly getting strength”.

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