Two-year-old Preston girl Matilda rings Christmas bells to celebrate being free of cancer

Christmas bells have taken on a special significance this year for two-year-old Matilda Farley, who has rung hers to celebrate being cancer-free.

By Catherine Musgrove
Friday, 24th December 2021, 8:11 am

The tot from the Fishwick area of Preston has finally been able to carry out the tradition of ringing the end of treatment bell, after the pandemic stopped her doing it in hospital.

She was only 10 months old when she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma - a tumour at the back of her left eye - in March last year.

>>>Click here to read how a family photo identified Matilda's cancer.

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Matilda ringing the Christmas bell

That was just as the pandemic hit the UK, and the country was placed into lockdown, meaning that as they came to terms with the news of their daughter's diagnosis, Beth Bretherton and Jonny Farley had to choose which one of them was with her in hospital.

"It was really hard having only one parent allowed", said Beth, 24, also mum to six-year-old Lucas.

"I was the one who ended up going, I just couldn't cope not being there and not knowing every bit of information."

The one-parent policy at Birmingham and Manchester Children's Hospitals continued throughout Matilda's treatment, which included six rounds of chemotherapy, laser treatment, a blood transfusion and many antibiotics.

The family photo which alerted Matilda's family to a problem

She was given the all-clear in November 2020.

Beth said: "We wanted it (ringing the bell) to be a big thing, but her dad wasn't allowed to be there for it.

"So to do it now, with the Christmas bell, was something very special. It was a very emotional moment.

"It marks her first year cancer-free, and our first proper Christmas, it's very special."

Matilda Farley, 2

Matilda's story

“It started when she was just three months old,” said Beth. “I noticed a glow in her left eye. You could see it in photographs.

“I took her to the doctor’s and they kept fobbing me off, saying she was OK. I kept mentioning it, but it wasn’t until her eight-month check-up that they referred her to a specialist."

The family waited another two months for an appointment and on the same day were given the news that doctors could see a mass in the back of her left eye - a tumour.

Matilda with big brother Lucas, mum Beth and dad Jonny

Beth said: "As a parent, you hear cancer and think the worst. But I was told the chances were good. Matilda's tumour was in the middle of her eye, it was close to the optic nerve, but didn't touch it."

Matilda was able to keep her left eye, but has been left blind in it.

She started nursery in September, and is finally enjoying being able to play with other children - something she was prevented from doing while undergoing treatment because her immune system was so suppressed.

Beth said: "She's made of steel this girl, she's so strong. I'd say she's more outgoing than most other children."

Now, having been cancer-free for a year, her family say they are finally able to enjoy Christmas and look forward to a new chapter in their lives - which also includes a new baby due in March.

Beth said: "We've done the first year cancer-free now. It's been a bit scary getting to that point, because there's always a worry it's going to come back.

"But now we feel like we can move on. It's a brand new chapter for us and we can be normal and our Christmas Day will be normal, because it wasn't last year.

"I'm looking forward to having a huge buffet and the kids playing all day."

Know The Glow

There is a national campaign called “Know The Glow” which highlights that a glow in a child's eyes in a photograph could be an indicator of more than 20 different eye diseases and conditions.

To check your child, take photographs with the flash switched on and the red eye reduction switched off.

Look for the ‘glow’ which is a white, opaque, or yellow spot in the pupil of one or both eyes.

If you see the ‘glow’ once be alert. But if you see it twice in the same eye then consult your doctor, or opthalmologist.

And advise other parents to check too.