Toddler's Cancer Detected on Facebook

facebook eye cancer
Facebook friend diagnoses a child's cancer.

Back in 2008, two friends who knew each other only through an online chat room became forever connected when one saved the life of the other’s child.

It started on a pregnancy website where UK resident Madeline Straub and Florida resident Megan Santos bonded during their pregnancies.  Both gave birth to daughters on the same day and remained in contact as their girls grew, regularly exchanging photos and emails.

But when Straub noticed something amiss in a photo of her friend’s 1-year-old daughter, Rowan, she became more than a friend – she became a hero to the Santos family.

Looking at that emailed photo, Straub noticed that little Rowan’s left eye had a white shadow over the pupil.  After doing a little research, she discovered that the eye’s unusual appearance could be a symptom of an eye cancer called Retinoblastoma.

One email later, Rowan was in a doctor’s office where a large tumor was discovered behind her eye.  She lost sight in that eye, but her life was likely saved by a woman she had never met who lived more than 4,000 miles away.

As incredible as that story is, it isn’t unique. 

Two years later, Facebook friends Nicola Sharp and Michele Freeman have just had a similar experience.  Sharp, a pediatric nurse in the UK, was browsing through Freeman’s Facebook photos of her 2-year-old daughter, Grace, when she noticed a white spot on the little girl’s eye. After alerting her friend that it could be a sign of cancer, Grace was examined and two tumors were discovered behind her left eye.

Grace lost her vision in that eye but the early detection most likely saved her life.

Retinoblastoma is rare and only affects young children.  When diagnosed early, it is treatable and can be cured but the symptoms are often hard to spot.  Freeman says that there were no signs that Grace was having problems with her eyes and acknowledges that without her friend’s warning, the cancer would have likely gone undetected until it was too late.

Without Nicola, we don’t think we would have discovered there was anything wrong with Grace until she had a routine eye test at school, when things could have been much worse.

Grace is currently undergoing specialist laser treatment and her condition will require monitoring for the rest of her life.  But thanks to a flash photo and Sharp’s sharp eye, she is doing just fine.

Image: timsnell/Flickr

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