Shortly before Alfie’s third birthday, his mum, Jess noticed an unusual reflection in his left eye.
When Alfie moved his head quickly or the light caught his eye at a particular angle, Jess saw what she described as a white reflection or cloudy spot.
“I mentioned it to my husband and family, but everyone thought I was a little crazy as they couldn’t see anything. Aside from that, Alfie had no other symptoms,” Jess said.
However, it was Jess recognising this small change that led to his diagnosis of retinoblastoma, a type of cancer that rapidly develops in the retina – the light-detecting tissue in the back of the eye.
By chance, Jess had already planned to visit an optometrist for a check-up of her older son’s eyes before he started kindergarten, so she decided to get Alfie’s eyes checked as well.
“The whole ordeal unfolded very unexpectedly and rapidly for us. We were at the optometrist, not really thinking much of it. Then, in less than four days our world was turned upside down.”
Alfie was referred to a local eye specialist in Mackay, and the next day, he was flown to the Queensland Children’s Hospital to confirm the diagnosis.
“Before Alfie’s diagnosis we had never heard of retinoblastoma and we had no idea what it was. I felt heartbroken, shocked and in total disbelief that my little boy had cancer.
“It was a total whirlwind in those few weeks following his diagnosis, not knowing how he would respond to treatment, or how long we would be away from home.”
Alfie went on to receive chemotherapy over a 10-month period – including treatments that were administered through his bloodstream and others that targeted the cancer in his eye via a direct injection. He also had laser treatments and cryotherapy (using freezing temperatures) applied to his retina to help stop the cancer.
“Watching your child fight cancer is so hard, especially when you feel so helpless. We all see and hear about childhood cancer occasionally, but you never think it’s going to happen to you.”
Thankfully, Alfie’s tumours have continued to shrink since his last treatment in late 2020. His treating team at the hospital continues to closely monitor his progress. Alfie (now 5) still has scans of his eye under anaesthetic every 3 months, plus 6-monthly check-ups with his oncology team.
Jess encourages other families to follow up on any worries or concerns they may have with their children – even if it seems like a very small problem.
“I hate to think what position we would be in if I hadn’t have followed up on taking Alfie to the optometrist when I did. We are so grateful to our oncologist, ophthalmologists and nurses for all of their love, care, patience and guidance, not only with Alfie’s diagnosis, but for our family as a whole.”