THE parents of a healthy 11-year-old girl were shocked when a lump on her foot turned out to be cancerous.
Sophia Houlston, of Romford, Essex, needed her leg amputated after the devastating diagnosis, after doctors thought the lump was only a cyst.
She began complaining of a golf ball-sized lump on her left foot in the summer of 2020, when she was nine years old.
Doctors suspected it was simply a build-up of fluid and told her parents – Corinne Houlston, 36, and Lee Dawson, 37 – to keep her leg elevated.
However, Corrine, a mum-of-three, said: “We were told it was just fluid, to go home and rest up for a couple of weeks. But Sophia kept complaining it was hurting.
“After a month, I went back and insisted on another X-ray.
“Again, we were told it was fluid and advised to lift her foot above her heart and try to get rid of it. But the lump just didn’t go away.”
Come September, Corrine – who was concerned Sophia’s foot may be fractured – visited her GP for a face-to-face appointment.
He referred the family to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Brockley Hill, Essex, where Sophia was seen in early October.
After weeks of tests, including an ultrasound, MRI and a biopsy, Corinne and Sophia were called in for the results.
Lee, a window fabricator, was initially told to wait outside because of Covid restrictions.
Corinne said: “It never occurred to me it could be cancer.
“Someone had mentioned a cyst, so I just thought it was that.
“I couldn’t believe it when they told us the lump was cancer. I thought at least they’d just remove it.
“But then, within minutes, we were being told all Sophia’s nerves and ligaments were going through the tumour and it couldn’t be removed without amputating her lower leg.
“It was just me and Sophia sat in the appointment when we were told.
“Her dad was outside due to Covid and we both just sobbed.
“When we came out, Sophia was being sick. It was just too much for a little girl to take in.”
The family was rushed to University College Hospital in London where a team was waiting.
There, Sophia was diagnosed with both a malignant peripheral nerve sheath, a rare cancer of the lining of the nerves.
She also had rhabdomyosarcoma, another rare cancer that forms in the soft tissue.
Sophia endured four months of chemotherapy, which caused her to lose her hair, and then had her amputation in April 2021 – going on to be discharged after just 10 days.
Corrine said: “She was in a wheelchair initially before being fitted for her prosthesis in July.
“At first, it was really hard for her to get around and she’d only wear it once a week, as she found it easier without.
“But she kept on trying. First, she’d use it with a Zimmer frame, then with crutches. Eventually, she learned to walk unaided.”
Sophia has come on leaps and bounds just 15 months after her left leg was amputated, even learning to ride her bike again.
Corrine, who is also mum to Tyler, 19, and Richie, 10, says Sophia refuses to let her disability hold her back, saying: ” I had no idea what life she’d live after losing her leg. We’re just so very proud of her.
“Sophia has always been a water baby.
“She told me she wanted to do something with the Paralympics, so we’ve approached the local para swim team.
“Since then, I’ve been taking her swimming every week and she’s really coming on.
“And she’s desperate to represent her country one day.
“While she became amazing with her prosthetic, she is still so much freer without it. It even soothes the aches, pains and sores she gets where she had the amputation.”
Sadly, Sophia is not out of the woods yet.
She is continuing to have regular scans, as doctors are unsure if nodules found on her lungs could also be cancerous.
But the youngster refuses to be beaten and has teamed up with Presca Sportswear, who work with Lennox’s Children Cancer Fund, for a glam photoshoot showing the realities of living with limb difference.
Corrine said: “She’s a little girl with such big dreams. Whenever she says she can’t do something, I tell her that’s not true. She can do anything and she’s proving that every day.”
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