An Ayrshire family have told how their ‘world collapsed’ when their three-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare cancer.
Ava Bolton’s family believed their “cheeky and adventurous” daughter had come down with a virus when she grew “pale and lethargic” and began vomiting over Christmas last year.
But when she was unable to walk properly due to leg pain and bruises appeared around her eyes, she was taken to the GP and referred to Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock for tests in January.
Doctors at initially suspected Ava had low blood counts. But when Ava was referred to Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Children, a bone marrow sample revealed abnormal cells which could be cancer.
Their worst fears were confirmed when a CT scan revealed a number of tumours on Ava’s back, shoulders, pelvis, hip and shin.
Scott and Natalie were later given the heartbreaking news that Ava had stage four high risk neuroblastoma, which has a 40-50% chance of long term survival.
It is a “very aggressive and rare” childhood cancer which affects around 100 children in the UK a year.
Instrument technician Scott, 34, told STV News: “We were absolutely devastated – our world collapsed. We weren’t prepared for it.
“Ava hadn’t been herself for a while. She’s usually energetic, upbeat and constantly causing havoc with her brother but later she had become shy and only wanted to cuddle on the couch.
“Our family and friends have been in total shock but they have been so supportive.
“She really has been amazing throughout it all. She still has her cheeky smile and she makes us so proud with how she is coping.”
Ava is currently undergoing “gruelling” chemotherapy treatment at the Royal Hospital for Children, which is to be completed in around 14 months. She will also undergo radiotherapy, immunotherapy and surgery.
While Ava’s activities are limited due to her current condition, she loves listening to music, drawing pictures and going to the park on her scooter with her brother Lucas when she is at home in Mauchline.
Scott said: “We’ve told Ava and Lucas that there is a monster in her tummy and that the medicine is helping her to get better.
“Sadly, treatment will now be a part of her life and she knows that.
“She’s feeling much better with her treatment. She has lost all her hair and she has a feeding tube in but she’s doing pretty well.”
Scott praised the team at the Royal Hospital for Children for brightening up the lives of young patients and offering much-needed support for families.
He said: “The hospital staff are fantastic. They have a play team who come and make balloons and play music.
“They really do not get enough credit for what they do and they make things so much easier for us.
“Ava is on multiple drips so she is confined to her bed for days at a time so we try to keep her occupied – she’ll play on her tablet, colour in or we’ll play I Spy out of the window.”
Ava’s parents are currently working to raising £250,000 for a pioneering new vaccination treatment being trialled at a clinic in New York.
Nearly £30,000 has been raised in a week since the campaign launched on April 8.
The Bivalent vaccine is designed to trigger a response of the immune system against neuroblastoma by helping the patient’s body to make antibodies to attack the cancer cells.
“Unfortunately the prognosis for neuroblastoma is quite severe and it has a high probability of returning,” Scott said. “It’s not got a great success rate. If this happens, Ava’s chance of survival would drop drastically.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with the support from complete strangers so far. We’ve had so many messages and people offering to carry out fundraisers on our behalf.
He added: “We try not to think too much about what’s to come. We forget about ourselves because everything is on hold and we want to do everything we can to get Ava treatment.
“We are not normally people who would ask for help, but as a family we need to know we have done everything we can to give Ava the best chance of beating this.
“We want to give Ava a life – and we don’t know what will happen without her getting this vaccine.
“This is an appeal to save Ava’s life.”