A mum who thought her little girl had ice in her eye after a snowball fight has revealed that it was in fact a rare form of cancer, which caused her three-year-old daughter to lose her eye.
Gina Hickson, 29, from Westgate-on-sea, Kent, put the unusual white glow she'd spotted in her daughter Darcey-Rose's left pupil down to her getting ice in it.
But when the cloudiness didn't go, she assumed she might need glasses and took her to the GP to be checked over in February 2021.
Darcey-Rose was referred a specialist and underwent vision screening and scans before Hickson and her husband, Michael, 34, were given the heartbreaking news that their little girl had retinoblastoma - a rare eye cancer that typically affects children under the age of six.
In March 2021, the youngster began the first of six rounds of chemotherapy at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, before going into remission.
Sadly, however, doctors discovered more cancer in her eye and Darcey-Rose's parents were told she could either have chemotherapy injections in her eye or her eye removed.
The tumour had spread around her retina and the chemotherapy wasn't working as it should, so Darcey-Rose had her left eye removed.
Since then she has been fitted with a prosthetic and understands she has a "special eye because of her poorly one".
Recalling the moment she first noticed the glow in her daughter's eye, Hickson says: "We just saw a mass, like a cloud, in Darcey-Rose's eye.
"It would change shape depending on where her eye was directed.
"Initially, we thought it was ice in her eye from a snowball fight.
"I Googled it and it took me to the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust’s website - which I instantly dismissed.
"I was still concerned so I got Darcey-Rose to pose for a picture and sent it to the GP straight away."
After a visit to the doctor, the family were referred to ophthalmology, but Hickson says there didn't seem to be a sense of urgency.
Darcey-Rose had a vision screening test to determine what was causing the unusual cloudiness in her eye.
“When looking through her right eye, Darcey-Rose was able to identify every animal, but when we covered the right you could immediately see she was blind in that eye," Hickson explains.
"Her whole body language changed, she became withdrawn and she was trying to find a way to see again."
Following a scan, the family were told they suspected Darcey-Rose had a rare eye cancer, but it couldn't be formally diagnosed until she'd seen a specialist.
"Our world fell apart," Hickson says of the moment. "Everything stood still but was also blurry around us”.
On the 19th February 2021, Darcey-Rose, then two, attended Moorfield Eye Hospital, where retinoblastoma was confirmed.
Typical signs of retinoblastoma include a white glow which may only appear in certain lights or a squint - as well as a change in the appearance of the eye or a swollen eye, although often only one sign or symptom is present.
Watch: 8-year-old who had eye removed due to cancer replaces it with pink sparkly prosthetic
Having completed six rounds of chemotherapy, in September 2021, Darcey-Rose needed laser and cryotherapy treatments, and in January 2022 it was decided she needed to restart chemotherapy.
Thankfully, on the 23rd March 2022, the family were given the happy news that she had gone into remission.
“We had a four to six week wait until the next check to see if the cancer had gone," Hickson says.
"But for that day, she was in remission again."
Unfortunately, in June this year, the family were told more cancer had been discovered in Darcey-Rose's eye, so they would need to choose whether to have chemotherapy injections in her eye or the eye removed.
"We did consider both options and as the direct injections would be done under anaesthetic, she wouldn't know any different to her normal treatment," Hickson says.
“We booked in the chemotherapy for the 29th June. Her vision was better and worth fighting to save.
"Darcey-Rose was incredible, she went down happy and we went off to the cafe, expecting it to go well.
"But after 20 minutes my phone rang, and we were told to come back. When I say we ran, we sprinted.”
The family were told the tumour had spread around the retina, meaning that chemotherapy was no longer an ideal option.
"When they said they were going to have to remove her eye, and the choice was taken, I felt pure fear," Hickson says.
“But the operation went really well and the clinician fitted a prosthetic eye."
On August 5, the family were given the incredible news that Darcey-Rose is now cancer free.
"You never want to see your child go through what she has been through, but she he has been amazing," Hickson says of her daughter.
“She is just the funniest, sass pot I've ever met. She makes me laugh every day.
"She's so clever, and inquisitive. She made every trip easier with her sheer zest for life
"We were saying the other day how in awe of her we are."
Gina Hickson will be running the London Marathon in October to raise funds for the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust - who have supported the family through their cancer journey.
Additional reporting SWNS.