Julie Apicella’s daughter Emily was diagnosed with a type of kidney cancer known as Wilms’ tumour when she was five years old. About 70 children in the UK develop a Wilms’ tumour each year.
“School photo time - obviously someone very special missing - my daughter Emily,” the mum, from Norfolk, wrote.
“Imagine if your school photo this year is the last you will ever be able to take and will just be a memory to remember.”
Within a week of being posted on 7 September, Apicella’s post had been shared more than 8,000 times by people hoping to help the mum raise awareness of the international symbol of childhood cancer: the gold ribbon.
“I am very happy that my post is getting the message out about childhood cancer awareness and hope to see lots of gold ribbons in response,” Apicella told The Huffington Post UK.
Following her diagnosis Emily underwent emergency surgery to remove her kidney, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy for eight months and then scans showed she had no evidence of disease. However, six months later scans showed the cancer had returned on the original site of her removed kidney.
Emily was treated with further chemotherapy, stem cell harvest and transplant and once again her family was told scans showed no evidence of the disease, but after a further six months she relapsed again and was put forward to take part in a drugs trial.
“In July to August 2015 we came off trial as it wasn’t working and came home to make memories of our time left,” explained Apicella. “There were no treatments left to try.
“Emily passed away at home on December 2015 aged eight years old after fighting cancer for three years.”
Now Apicella has decided to try to raise awareness of childhood cancer because she says “funding for research is painfully small”, and she has concerns that treatments which are suitable for adults may be too harsh for children’s “small bodies”.
“My daughter ran out of options and we as a family had to watch as her cancer took over her body with nothing to try to cure her and that is tragic,” she said.
“I would like the gold ribbon of childhood cancer to be as recognised as the pink ribbon for breast cancer, and for the symptoms for cancer to be as recognised as the meningitis rash glass test by parents and doctors.
“A parent shouldn’t bury their child, that isn’t the circle of life, and if awareness can change that for one person then it is worthwhile.
“The saying: ‘it won’t happen to my child, they are healthy’, is what every oncology parent said to themselves before diagnosis.”
According to the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) it is difficult to put together a definitive list of symptoms, as many different types of cancer affect children, but common symptoms include:
:: Persistently feeling very tired and lethargic.
:: Having lots of infections.
:: Having flu-like symptoms that don’t go away.
:: Bleeding or bruising easily.
:: Unexplained aches and pains that don’t go away.
:: Unexplained seizures, changes in behaviour or vision.
:: Feeling a lump or unusual firmness anywhere on the body.
:: Losing a significant amount of weight in teenagers.
If you are worried about your child, the charity advises you should make an urgent appointment to see your GP. Take a list of your child’s symptoms and be prepared to explain why you suspect they might have cancer.