‘Smile!’ I said to my son Aayaan, two, as the camera flashed. Looking at the photo, I noticed a spot in his left eye. Snapping a few more pictures, it appeared in every one.
What was it? Thinking back, Aayaan had always had a glow in his eye but doctors assured us it was nothing to worry about.
‘It will correct itself in time,’ they said. But instead, it seemed to be growing bigger.
Concerned, I took him back for a second opinion. Again, we were told not to worry. Unsatisfied, I googled Aayaan’s symptoms. That’s when I stumbled across retinoblastoma – a rare cancer of the retina that affects young children. My stomach twisted as I read that sufferers are often diagnosed because their eye glows in photos.
‘This can’t be possible,’ I said to my husband Alok, 35.
But consulting an ophthalmologist, our fears were confirmed. A scan revealed a tumour on Aayaan’s retina had spread to his optic nerve. After discussing treatments with his specialist, we opted to have Aayaan’s optic nerve and eye removed and replaced with an artificial one.
When the surgery was finished, we were told the tumour was detected just in time. For five months after the op, I would wake each night to Aayaan’s screams as he remembered the ordeal. During the day, he’d cling to me, too terrified to leave my side. But thankfully over time he has adapted to life with his new eye.
His prosthetic eyeball is so lifelike you can barely tell the difference! Now our boy is a happy and healthy five-year-old. Thanks to a photo, he has a bright future ahead.
WHAT IS RETINOBLASTOMA?
➜ Retinoblastoma most commonly affects young children. It usually only occurs in one eye, however one in three children with retinoblastoma develops cancer in both eyes.
➜ The most common sign of retinoblastoma is a whiteness in the pupil known as ‘cat’s eye reflex’, which becomes noticeable in photos taken with a flash.
➜ Retinoblastoma is often treatable if detected early.
This story originally appeared in that's life! Issue 32, 11 August 2016.