Parents warned after rare cancer found during child’s eyesight check

By Marion Brennan | Wolverhampton | News | Published:

A couple who noticed a strange white glow in their son’s right eye have issued a warning to other parents after the two-year-old was found to have a rare cancer.

Sally Nutt with her son Oliver

Following the discovery James Rushton booked his son in at the family optician in Wolverhampton only to be told something was seriously wrong with Oliver’s eyesight and he should be taken immediately to New Cross Hospital.

The boy’s mother Sally Nutt rushed home from work and Oliver was seen the same afternoon at New Cross where doctors discovered that the youngster could barely see out of his right eye and referred him to Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Oliver was thought to have retinoblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of eye cancer which normally affects children under the age of six, often presenting as a squint or ‘lazy eye’, or as a ghostly white glow in the eye under certain lighting conditions.

Sally said: “We were completely clueless about retinoblastoma up until that point – your brain goes into overdrive. And even then, you don’t think it could be cancer.”

The couple, from Wombourne, said Oliver was seen again at Birmingham Children’s Hospital the following week where he had further tests and doctors confirmed the initial diagnosis, revealing the tumours were at an advanced stage.

“We were zombies at this point, our nerves wrought. Seeing our child put under general anaesthetic, becoming lifeless like a doll was overwhelming,” said Sally.

“We decided the kindest thing to do would be to have the eye removed. It was a heartbreaking decision that no parent should ever have to make. The doctors confirmed that removing the eye would also be their advice, given the advancement of Oliver’s tumours. We could have had chemo only to find that they eye would have likely needed to be removed anyway.”

Six months on from his operation, Oliver is now back to his “happy, lively self”, say his parents, and thriving at nursery. He now has a prosthetic eye which has been custom-painted to closely match his other, and has medical check-ups every eight weeks.


In a message to other parents, Sally said: “Trust your instincts. If you are in any doubt at all about your child’s eyes, take them to your local opticians for a check.” She praised their own optician’s, Specsavers in Wolverhampton, for being “amazingly helpful and acting so rapidly.”

Patrick Tonks, chief executive of the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, said retinoblastoma was rare, with only around one child a week diagnosed in the UK each year.

He added: “Currently half of diagnosed babies and young children lose an eye to save their life. Urgent referral and early diagnosis can help save a child’s sight, eyes and life.

“In Oliver’s case, the optician took the correct course of action which led to a speedy diagnosis. However we are aware that families are sometimes turned away by their optician, advising that their practice does not see very young children and babies.”

Marion Brennan

By Marion Brennan

News and features reporter, specialising in human interest and local history stories.

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