A toddler in the U.K. is facing a fight for life as she battles a rare and aggressive tumor that left her “looking pregnant.” Cleo Keenan has a tumor in her abdomen which caused her stomach to swell up like a balloon.
Her parents Shannon Latham, 23, and father Ryan Keenan, 26, have been told the “little warrior” has a 25 to 35 percent survival rate after being given the devastating diagnosis earlier this month.
“You never expect it to happen to your own child,” Latham, of Blackpool, Lancashire, said. “Now that it’s happened, I feel powerless. I wish there was a way I could take it away from her and fight it. That’s what’s hard. I can’t take it away from her.”
Cleo was taken to a medical center in February where it was suspected the swelling in her stomach was caused by a hormone imbalance she has suffered from in the past.
However, in March the toddler was rushed to Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s emergency department after complaining of a stomachache, where doctors quickly realized there was something terribly wrong.
She was given a CT scan, which revealed the huge tumor inside her abdomen, and she was taken to Manchester Children’s Hospital the next day.
Two weeks later, on April 1, she was diagnosed with stage 3 adrenal carcinoma, a rare disease caused by cancerous cells in the adrenal, or hormone, glands.
“She looked like she was pregnant. I was getting more and more concerned,” Latham said. “Because of her hormone changes, they thought she had a hormone imbalance. It was such a shock when we found out. It’s just begun to sink in because she’s so young and she’s such a bright child. She had always been absolutely healthy. She was like any other 2-year-old.”
Cleo, who lives with her parents and sisters Emelia, 5, and Ellie-Mae, 4, must undergo more chemotherapy before having an operation to remove the malignant tumor and affected adrenal gland later this year.
However, Latham said there is an 80 percent chance the tumor will return even after surgery.
“All we can do is remain positive and happy.,” she said. “It keeps a smile on Cleo’s face. That’s what we want for the whole time she’s being treated: for her to keep smiling. We just say to ourselves that this is just another chapter of her life.”
“We are shrinking the tumor with chemotherapy at the moment and once it’s small enough they’re going to remove it,” she said. “There’s an 80 percent chance of it recurring, but that means there’s a 20 percent chance it won’t. We never thought we would ever face anything like this.”
“Cleo is still smiling through every single day,” she said. “She still laughs and jokes, and the hospital has been amazing – she’s been having fun in their playroom. She’s a little warrior.”
“On April 2 she started chemotherapy and she was on that for four days,” Latham said. “It was draining. The chemo started making her ill and she’s had to have a blood transfusion and injections of so many different medications.”
“She’s gone from being a normal happy child to a really poorly little thing and it’s really difficult to see,” she said. “I’m sat there every day with her just watching her go down and down. She picks up infections really easily. I’m trying as hard as I can to stay positive and talk about it because when I talk about it it’s letting it out. But when I’m on my own my mind goes into overdrive and I’m just constantly crying.”
“You start to think the worst once you’re on your own,” Latham said. “When I see her smiling when I’m with her it makes everything much easier. Ryan rings me every day and when he asked me about Cleo he also makes sure I’m eating and everything. He’s my rock at the minute.”
The family has now set up a Facebook page, called Cleo’s Chapter, to document the toddler’s cancer fight.
They have also set up an online fundraiser to help with the cost of their regular journeys from Blackpool to Manchester Children’s Hospital.
“Cleo is bubbly and independent. She’s really advanced for her age,” Latham said. “She’s not like other 2-year-olds. Her speech is amazing. She speaks like a 4 or 5-year-old. Because of how rare her cancer is, the survival rate is 25 to 35 percent. But she’s a great child and a great little fighter. She’s been so strong in hospital.”