A mum has shared how her toddler's sudden weight gain and excessive body hair were actually symptoms of cancer – claiming doctors insisted he was just "overweight".
Natalie Ridler, 32, a physiotherapist from Wales, was left heartbroken after her two-year-old son, Morgan, was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer in October 2021.
The toddler had begun gaining weight rapidly in April and developed excessive body hair and behavioural issues.
Concerned, the mum took her son to the doctor, but claims they accused her of overfeeding her child.
After pushing for tests, it was discovered he suffered from a tumour on his adrenal gland, known as adrenocortical carcinoma.
Morgan was given a 10 per cent chance of survival, with the illness affecting one in every million children.
"We thought we were going to lose our son because it had taken so long to get him diagnosed," Natalie said.
"I was angry that I hadn’t pushed harder sooner. I was concerned about perhaps, an endocrine disorder or hormone disorder, but I never thought it was going to be cancer.
"At first it was terrifying, I have a medical background in my job so I understood an awful lot of what was happening and going on. My husband, Matthew, 32, didn’t have that so I think everything was a lot scarier for him.
"The fear that we would lose his firstborn and his only son was something he couldn’t comprehend but couldn’t stop thinking about," she added. "He really struggled to compartmentalise and suffered from PTSD as a result.
"It was really tough on him as he had to return to work during Morgan’s treatment as we couldn’t sustain ourselves on two lots of sick pay."
Weeks prior to her son's diagnosis, the mum-of-two decided to seek a private consultation as she knew her boy wasn't just "overweight".
Doctors noticed that Morgan's liver felt enlarged and he was sent for an ultrasound on October 28.
Discovering the mass, they explained it was producing large amounts of cortisol and testosterone responsible for the unusual symptoms.
Morgan had to be rushed into surgery as the tumour had spread to his lungs, as well as undergo several rounds of chemotherapy.
"I don’t think we will ever recover from seeing him being treated for cancer," Natalie said. "It was heartbreaking to have to see him so poorly, he was frequently sick and housebound due to being immunocompromised from the chemotherapy.
"Seeing him so unwell, having to force him to do things that he didn’t want to do, the unexpected hospital trips. He was very vulnerable. Between rounds three and four of chemotherapy, he developed viral meningitis and was very unwell.
"Morgan was bed bound for three weeks and lost the ability to walk. He missed friends' birthday parties, and a year of preschool, it also meant I was often spending time apart from my very young daughter, who was 5 months old when Morgan was diagnosed.
"I couldn’t allow myself to think about the possibility of losing him, I threw myself into doing to best I could for my family and raising money for the charities that were assisting us."
After months of gruelling treatment, Morgan was finally given the all-clear in August 2022 but still has to be monitored every three months.
"It was a relief when he went into remission, but not nearly the exuberant feeling of joy that I expected," Natalie said.
"There is a high risk of reoccurrence and three-monthly scans to capture it early. After being thrown into the world of cancer, it feels like it will always be a passenger on our life journey now.
"There is constant anxiety that something will return, especially since Morgan was found to have a genetic mutation which makes him more susceptible to cancer called Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS)."
Natalie wants to make it her mission to encourage other parents to push for answers when they believe something isn't right. She believes if health professionals had listened to her, Morgan may not have needed as much treatment as he did.
The mum has also created an Instagram page called Morgan's Army, where people can follow the little tot's journey.
"It's important that parents are empowered to push for medical advice when they feel something isn’t right," she added.
"We had so much difficulty getting health professionals to listen to us and I really feel that perhaps Morgan wouldn’t have needed so much treatment or big surgeries."
- Jam Press
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.