The heartbroken mum of a toddler diagnosed with a rare cancer said she was treated like an “overreactive mum” – after medics initially said her daughter had a viral infection.
Flora Gentleman, aged two, was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma in April and is now receiving intensive chemotherapy in a bid to shrink the tumour in her stomach.
Flora was diagnosed with autism in January but mum Stephanie Kent, 29, said her health started to deteriorate around the same time
Mum-of-one Stephanie Kent said Flora, who is normally “full of beans”, began to grow quiet, lethargic, irritable and complained of a sore stomach.
Stephanie and police officer dad Jamie Gentleman, 29, said they knew something wasn’t right – but despite taking Flora to GPs three times they were told it was just a viral infection.
In March, Flora was finally admitted to hospital and shortly after the family were given the devastating diagnosis that she had a tumour in her stomach.
Further tests revealed the cancer had spread to the bones around her skull, eyes and in her bone marrow.
Flora, from Aberlady, East Lothian, now faces a gruelling 18 months of treatment at the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh.
Mum Stephanie said: “When Flora was about 18-months-old we went to the doctors because her stomach was really swollen and bloated.
“They said it was normal for kids her age as their digestive systems haven’t fully developed yet.
“But the problems continued and I began to cut things out of her diet to see if that would help – it didn’t and things just got worse.
“When the vomiting started, I knew something wasn’t right and I took her back to the GP, but they just kept saying it was a nasty viral infection.
“Flora is non-verbal so it was a guessing game for us trying to work out what was wrong.
“When we took her to the doctors they said she looked happy and healthy but I tried to explain it was different at home.
“They said they weren’t concerned about it but she lost her apatite and I was struggling to get her to eat or drink.
“I was never satisfied when I left the doctors, it was such a horrible feeling, especially as a first-time mum because I was dismissed and treated as paranoid and overreactive.
“The last week of March, Flora was really unwell and we decided to take her to A&E and they took us really seriously, they could see how poorly she was.
“Being given the diagnosis was absolutely horrific, it felt like our whole world fell apart.
“The first few weeks were so hard, it was hard even saying the words out loud to our friends and family.”
Neuroblastoma affects around 100 kids each year in the UK and is most common in children under the age of five, but the cause is still unknown.
The chances of relapse are around 50 per cent, with a survival rate of just one in ten, and Stephanie said they are now fundraising for clinical trials in America.
She said: “The team at the hospital have been amazing, and the staff on the ward have been a great support system for me.
“Flora will be in and out of hospital to have treatment for the next 18 months.
“Because her cancer is so aggressive she will have eight rounds of chemo every 10 days. The chemo will shrink the tumour in her stomach and the doctors hope to remove it at some point.
“After 18 months her treatment will stop but she has a 50 per cent chance of relapse, which is why we are fundraising for clinical trials in America.
“We feel like we have been left to do all of this alone.
“It’s hard enough going through treatment without having to think about going to America because she can’t have it at home.”
The couple have teamed up to launch an appeal with the Solving Kids’ Cancer charity in a bid to raise money for research and trials in America.
Stephanie added: “I’d never heard of neuroblastoma before Flora.
“It affects around 100 kids each year in the UK and while treatment with the NHS has come a long way, the battle isn’t over at the end of treatment.
“The chances of relapse are around 50 per cent, with a survival rate of just one in ten, so we would like to fundraise for research into the cancer.
“But also for two potential clinical trials which are on our radar.”