Award for courageous Doncaster girl who is battling extremely rare form of cancer

A nine-year old girl from Armthorpe near Doncaster has received a prestigious award in recognition of the courage she has shown while battling against an extremely rare form of cancer. 

Olivia Harrison was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer which affects the retina of children predominantly under six years old, in September 2009 when she was just three-and-a-half months old.

Olivia Harrison

Olivia Harrison

Tests revealed that Olivia had cancer in both of her eyes. Although retinoblastoma is treatable, the extent of the tumours meant her right eye had to be removed in order to save her life, with doctors managing to save the left eye. 

Olivia now wears an artificial right eye and, despite being in remission since February 2010, undergoes check-ups every six months to ensure that the cancer has not returned.

Despite everything she has been through, Olivia continues to live an active, happy life, working her way through various swimming badges and even becoming a blue belt at Taekwondo.

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In recognition of her outstanding effort and bravery, Olivia has been named a CHECT Champion 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 (often referred to as Rb for short) throughout treatment and beyond.

“I first realised something wasn’t right when we were in the bathroom together one evening,” says mum Jane Harrison. “I’d run the water and put Olivia in the bath. She was lying there, kicking her feet, and as I turned to get a towel I caught sight of a white light in one of her eyes. You could see it under the halogen bulbs in the bathroom but not under the normal lights in the rest of our house.

“I took her to an out-of-hours doctor that night who thought it might be a cataract or detached retina. The next day we saw our own doctor and that led to us being referred to the local eye clinic at Doncaster Royal Infirmary. It was then that we were told she had no vision in her right eye.

“The following week we went to the specialist children’s hospital in Birmingham where Olivia was diagnosed with retinoblastoma. Ten days later she was operated on and, the day after that, began chemotherapy on her left eye. It all happened so quickly.”

Olivia has already received her CHECT Champion medal and a framed certificate in recognition of her immense courage and bravery.

“Olivia is such a resilient girl,” adds Jane Harrison. “She still has the odd wobble emotionally and her balance isn’t great because her sight lacks depth perception, but otherwise she’s fine. She embraces life with a real can-do attitude. I’m just so proud of her.”

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CHECT has three vital missions – to offer one-to-one support for families and individuals affected by retinoblastoma, to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms to prompt earlier diagnosis, and to help fund research into the disease.

“Every child affected by retinoblastoma faces huge disruption, upset and distressing treatment not to mention follow-on check-ups,” says Patrick Tonks, chief executive of CHECT. 

“We are delighted to recognise the courage, resilience and resourcefulness shown by Olivia throughout her treatment. She really is a thoroughly deserving champion.”