For several weeks, Naomi Holman had noticed her 14-year-old Molly was generally off-colour, lethargic and clumsier than usual, but thought it was just typical of being a teenager.
Meanwhile, her complaints of headaches and sore eyes were put down to a bout of hot weather and phone use.
“We were getting ready for school one morning and I spotted Molly had an ingrown toenail, and I thought this may explain her recent clumsiness – so we booked a GP appointment,” Naomi said.
During the exam, the GP spotted some inflammation in the back of her eye which they thought may be residual infection from her foot.
The doctor recommended for the Herefordshire-based family to take Molly to the opticians to get her eyes checked in case she needed a new prescription for her glasses, which could explain the headaches she was experiencing.
Molly’s dad Nigel took his daughter to see an optometrist at Vision Express, who conducted a routine eye examination and spotted a concerning amount of inflammation behind her optic nerve.
Nigel was advised to immediately take Molly to the local A&E. There, she underwent an MRI scan and a thorough examination of her eyes.
“A mix of parental instinct and previous experience working in healthcare told us something wasn’t right as we watched the medical team check the screens in the consulting room,” Naomi and Nigel recalled.
Initially, the family were told to go home and wait for the results to come through but when they got in the car they were called back by the consultant.
He ushered them into the family room and told them that Molly had a brain tumour and needed to be transferred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital for surgery. Her first operation was just 48 hours later.
“Molly’s tumour was nearly a quarter of the size of her brain, and its growth not only had a significant impact on her optic nerve but was dangerously close to her brain stem, making it difficult to remove,” her parents said.
“If we had not discovered it sooner, the impact on her may have been catastrophic.”
There are lots of different types of brain tumour, which are typically treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
According to the Teenage Cancer Trust, symptoms of a brain tumour include: feeling sick or drowsy; having fits; headaches; problems with vision, balance or coordination; problems with emotions, behaviour or memory; and problems with growth and puberty.
Molly underwent several procedures over the course of two months to remove the tumour and is now considered tumour-free.
“On the ward, they’d call Molly the Viking Princess because of her warrior attitude, and she had gorgeous red hair which the surgeon refused to shave for the operation,” her parents added.
They said she handled the ordeal “better than all the adults in the room” and added: “We’re so proud.”
Molly is now classed as severely visually impaired because of the tumour. She is under regular consultation with both her hospital team and Vision Express, who are working to prescribe new glasses to improve her remaining sight.
“We have a long way to go ... She has lost almost all sight in her left eye and has significant damage to her right – all of which is a small price to pay to have her still with us,” her parents said.
Moving forward, Naomi says her friends and family have all booked eye tests, and she stresses that it’s one appointment you shouldn’t miss.
“Without the vigilance and professionalism of the optometrist at Vision Express that day, we may not have known until it was too late. They said it was the worst case they’d seen in a 30-year career,” she said.
She added that Vision Express, together with staff at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, “no doubt saved our daughter’s life.”