She was devastated when her son was diagnosed with cancer. Paulette Fisher feared the worst when doctors broke the news, but it’s been almost a year since her little boy has received a clean bill of health. Now, Fabiano Theunissen from Hermanus is the picture of health, and the family have a little more to celebrate this International Childhood Cancer Day.
“For the first four years there was still the possibility that the cancer could return, but today he is completely free of cancer,” Paulette tells YOU.
Fabiano (9) was three years old when he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer that mainly affects young children. His mother suspected something was wrong after taking a few pictures of him. “I noticed in some photos, his right eye was red, as you sometimes see in photos, but the left eye was yellow.”
Paulette took Fabiano to a doctor who suggested it may be caused by an artery. But when the yellow spot in his eye continued to grow, she sought help from a specialist who diagnosed him with retinoblastoma. “It was absolutely devastating,” she recalls.
Doctors suggested chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but Paulette was too worried about the effects of chemo on her little boy and opted for radiation instead. The radiation treatment, however, was unsuccessful, and Fabiano’s eye was removed to prevent the cancer from spreading further. “I remember my family was upset with me for making that call because they believe the doctors could have done something.”
But Paulette says she did what she thought was best for her son at the time because doctors had explained his cancer was aggressive and spreads quickly. “They had to remove the eye to save his life,” she says.
Despite her family’s fears, Fabiano recovered quickly and underwent intensive therapy to learn how to get by with just one eye. Six months after his surgery, he received his first glass eye.
Still, she couldn’t shake the fear the cancer would return. “Whenever he had a cut, or his eyes were swollen I was stressed out because it was always something in the back of my mind,” Paulette says.
Turns out she had nothing to worry about. “Today Fabiano is a very confident boy and lives comfortably with his glass eye,” she says. “He will take it out, clean it and will gladly tell people about his glass eye. He will explain he used to be sick but not anymore and is very clued up.
“He’s truly a blessing to all of us.”
On 15 February every year ICCD is celebrated. It also highlights the need for better access to treatment and care for all children with cancer.
Retinoblastoma is a rare form of eye cancer that mainly affects young children under the age of five. This type of cancer starts in the retina, the back part of the eye. The retina works with your brain to help you see; it has layers of cells that sense light and send information to your brain.
Though retinoblastoma is the most common type of eye cancer in children, it is also very rare. Only about 200 to 300 children are diagnosed with it every year, Cancer.org reports.
In most cases the condition affects one eye only.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
According to Cleveland Clinic, the first sign is often a change in the way the eye looks – the pupil may appear white; red or inflamed eyes; pupils are different sizes or cross-eyed, where the eyes may appear misaligned.
Retinoblastoma can be treated in the following ways:
• Chemotherapy where chemotherapy drugs are injected through the arteries.
• Cryotherapy, which means using extreme cold (usually liquid nitrogen) to freeze the tumour, destroying the cancer cells.
• Radiation therapy, which kills the cancer cells and stops them from multiplying.
• Surgery (called enucleation) where you may need to remove the entire eyeball and part of the optic nerve behind the eyeball. You can then place an artificial eyeball and lens (similar to a contact lens) inside the eye socket.