A toddler was diagnosed with a rare labia tumour after her mum discovered a lump while putting on her nappy.

Willow Dodd was just 18 months old when her mum Karla Heathcote found the lump after giving her a bath.

The 33-year-old, from Alnwick, Northumberland, said: “It was around Halloween and just like normal I’d given Willow a bath and was getting her ready putting on a clean nappy when I saw a protruding lump on her labia.

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“It was only small, but different enough for me to notice that something had changed. She didn’t appear in any discomfort, but I was keen to get it checked over by a doctor.”

Karla was advised to keep an eye on it, but there wasn’t thought to be anything wrong.

She said: “Over time the lump grew and turned blue, but Willow still wasn’t bothered by it.

“Things started to change when she had a couple of recurring colds. Despite numerous doctor’s appointments and being referred, it was just thought to be a cyst and antibiotics prescribed. But I knew this wasn’t normal.”

In May 2019, after months of not knowing what was wrong, Willow was diagnosed with stage 4 Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue, with the primary tumour in her labia.

Further tests showed the cancer had already spread to her pelvic lymph nodes and there were signs of cancer in her stomach and up to her chest.

Willow Dodd during treatment
Willow Dodd during treatment

Karla, who is also mum to boys Ollie, Joey and Louie, with partner Graeme Dodd, said: “From the moment she was diagnosed it was a whirlwind and I don’t really remember much of it. It was so hard to believe as Willow was so well within herself and not poorly. To hear such a devastating diagnosis was so shocking.”

Willow was admitted to Newcastle ’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, and just days after her diagnosis had an operation and began chemotherapy.

Tragically due to the urgent need to start treatment there was no time to help save her fertility, so she will no longer be able to bear her own children when she’s older.

Karla said: “Of course the need to save her life was the most important thing and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but now when she’s at home playing with her dolls it does make you feel sad knowing that option has been taken her away from her.”

Willow required intensive chemotherapy, surgery to remove the pelvic lymph nodes and radiotherapy.

Willow Dodd with mum Karla and dad Graeme
Willow Dodd with mum Karla and dad Graeme

This meant over the months that followed having treatment, she spent many weeks in hospital away from her brothers and home.

Karla added: “It was such a difficult time for everyone in our family especially for us all to be apart. Willow would be in hospital every three weeks and then at one point she was having chemotherapy and radiotherapy at the same time for 30 days.

“To be away from our boys was so hard and for them not to see their mam and dad for a lot of the time was tough. We wanted to try and make life as normal as possible for them, especially with the pandemic added on top. But their nana was incredible and has been the backbone keeping everything going, even now.”

Willow, now three years old, completed her treatment in December 2020 and is in remission. She continues to have scans every three months and she has started nursery.

Karla said: “Looking at her now and her long luscious locks you’d never know what that little girl has been through. She really is incredible.

“It was a huge milestone for us all when she started nursery. We couldn’t believe we had made it and it really felt we could start to move past the horror of her diagnosis.

“We all still have the emotional aspect of cancer to work through, especially for our boys, and Willow refuses to watch any video of herself in hospital, but we just take it a day at a time.”

Willow’s family are now urging people to clear out their wardrobes as part of TK Maxx’s Give Up Clothes for Good campaign, in support of Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

The public can donate any pre-loved quality fashion and homeware they no longer need to their nearest TK Maxx store.

When sold in Cancer Research UK shops, each bag of items donated could raise up to £25 to help fund research into children’s and young people’s cancers.

Karla said: “When we had Willow it such a dream come true for me and Graeme after having three boys. She was unplanned and it was such surprise. But then to have this happen to her has just been devastating.

“But it’s thanks to research that Willow is here today. That’s why raising money and awareness for Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People is so vital.

“We have met so many families from the hospital that haven’t been as lucky and we take courage from them.

“The NHS staff looking after Willow have been incredible. We will never forget them and they really inspire me to want to give something back and do what I can to help others.

“We hope our experience will inspire others across the region to do the same. Their unwanted items really could save lives and help find kinder treatments for children.”

Find out more or donate online at cruk.org/childrenandyoungpeople.

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