Dereham siblings recognised by charity for courage after eye operations
11:28 02 May 2014
© Archant Norfolk 2014
One of Isobel Hammond’s prized possessions is a small wooden glass-topped box.
But this is not for jewellery or other trinkets. It houses something far more special - her collection of false eyes.
“This is my party eye,” she says, excitedly pointing to one of the compartments at the end of a row of eyes, each one slightly larger than the one before, and carefully lifting out the oval shaped prosthetic to display its special pink and purple iris.
“I might have blue and brown next,” she adds. “Or green and yellow.”
For seven-year-old Isobel from Dereham, living with a false eye has become second nature and something her whole family has had to come to terms with.
Sister shows strength
Max Banning, six, was just one when he was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer and had to undergo treatment.
Max, who lives with his family in Cromer, had already been for hospital tests because he was not developing at a normal rate for his age and an MRI scan detected some brain damage.
But throughout his long battle to fight the disease, Max’s eight-year-old sister Leah stood by his side.
Now Leah has been recognised with an award from the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust.
Mum Coral, who did a sponsored skydive in 2010 to raise money for the charity, said Leah had coped well.
She said: “When Max was having treatment she had to stay with her grandparents which meant she missed
out on a lot of things including after-school clubs.
“She always knew her little brother was unwell but she never complained once about the disruption to her life and being away from mum and dad.
“Since then Leah has been like a second mum to Max.”
Doctors discovered Max had a missing chromosome, the one which enables the body to fight eye cancers.
Chief executive of the charity Joy Felgate said: “We are delighted to recognise the courage, resilience and resourcefulness shown by Leah through Max’s treatment and beyond.
“She is an extremely deserving champion.”
“She is still the same Isobel,” said mum Sara. “She still loves singing and dancing and is a normal little girl.”
But normal life became a thing of the past for the family, which also includes dad Wayne and sons Stephen, 14, and four-year-old Isaac, when, at the age of just three, Isobel was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer which affects the retina of children. She had to have her right eye removed as part of her treatment, just two weeks after being taken for her first appointment with an optician after her mum was concerned that she may have a squint.
“It did hit us like a tonne of bricks,” said Mrs Hammond. “It all happened so quickly. You don’t want the doctors to take her eye but if that is the only way for her to survive then you have to accept it. You can’t risk the cancer spreading.”
Not only did the family have to deal with Isobel’s life-changing operation they also discovered Isaac needed surgery on a squint and nystagmus (involuntary eye movement) in his left eye. Although his surgery was a success he does not have 100 percent vision in the eye and the family are unsure if it will ever return.
But now the three siblings have something to really smile about. Stephen, Isobel and Isaac have each been named CHECT Champions by the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT).
The CHECT Champion awards aim to recognise the courage, resilience and patience shown by all children affected by retinoblastoma throughout treatment and beyond. Only about 12 children receive the awards nationally each year.
They were nominated by their mum for the award after she told the trust: “All three of them have just been amazing. Isobel has had an especially tough time but she takes it all in her stride and has adapted really well. She had to learn how to take out her artificial eye but that doesn’t bother her one bit.
“Isaac is younger and doesn’t understand as much but has refused to let the problems he has experienced with his own eye bother him. He is a strong-willed, amazing little boy. Stephen is awesome. He totally dotes on his brother and sister. He was an emotional wreck when Isobel was diagnosed and a lot of that came out as anger, but he worked through it with the support of his friends and family. They couldn’t wish for a better, more supportive older brother. Stephen is my rock.”
Stephen, who goes to Northgate High School, said he was particularly surprised to get the award because he hadn’t realised what a support he had been, to his mum in particular.
“She said stuff about me that I didn’t think was unusual because I did it normally,” he said. “She did get quite emotional and I did try to cheer her up a lot especially when dad was working. I guess I had to step up my game. It was a shock when I was told about Isobel but now I think at least she is still here today.”
Isobel, a pupil at St Nicholas Junior School in Dereham, still has regular check-ups, and gets a new eye every few months as her eye socket grows, but gets to keep the old one in her wooden box. She also has to take it out to be cleaned once a week and her mum has to check the socket for infections as well as check the implant behind the false eye which helps it move like a normal eye.
“We were all a bit squeamish about it to start with but you have to do it,” said Mrs Hammond.
The CHECT Champion awards are sponsored by Credit Suisse with each child receiving a medal together with a framed certificate and goody bag.
Joy Felgate, chief executive of CHECT, said: “Stephen, Isobel and Isaac have been through so much over the last few years but they’ve each showed remarkable levels of courage and resilience. They are all thoroughly deserving champions.”
* For more information about retinoblastoma and the work of the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust contact Julie Firth on 0207 377 5578, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.chect.org.uk.
* Do you know a child who has overcome life-changing surgery? Email email@example.com