A brave toddler is facing a fight for life as she battles a rare and aggressive tumour that left her ‘looking pregnant’.
Cleo Keenan has a tumour in her abdomen which caused her stomach to swell up like a balloon.
Her parents Shannon Latham, 23, and father Ryan Keenan, 26, have been told the “little warrior” has a 25 to 35 per cent survival rate after being given the devastating diagnosis in April this year.
Mum Shannon said: “You never expect it to happen to your own child.
“Now that it’s happened, I feel powerless. I wish there was a way I could take it away from her and fight it.
“That’s what’s hard. I can’t take it away from her.”
Cleo was taken to a medical centre in February where it was suspected the swelling in her stomach was caused by a hormone imbalance she has suffered from in the past.
However, in March the toddler was rushed to Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s A&E department after complaining of a stomach ache, where doctors quickly realised there was something terribly wrong.
The youngster was given a CT scan, which revealed the huge tumour inside her abdomen, and she was taken to Manchester Children’s Hospital the next day.
Two weeks later, on Monday, April 1, she was diagnosed with stage three adrenal carcinoma, a rare disease caused by cancerous cells in the adrenal – or hormone – glands.
Shannon, who is a shop worker, from Blackpool, Lancs., said: “She looked like she was pregnant. I was getting more and more concerned.
“Because of her hormone changes, they thought she had a hormone imbalance.
“It was such a shock when we found out. It’s just begun to sink in because she’s so young and she’s such a bright child.
“She had always been absolutely healthy. She was like any other two-year-old.”
Cleo, who lives with her parents and sisters Emelia, five, and Ellie-Mae, four, must undergo more chemotherapy before having an operation to remove the malignant tumour and affected adrenal gland later this year.
However, Shannon said there is an 80 per cent chance the tumour will return even after surgery.
Heartbreakingly, Cleo’s chances of survival remain at just 25 to 35 per cent.
Shannon said: “All we can do is remain positive and happy. It keeps a smile on Cleo’s face. That’s what we want for the whole time she’s being treated: for her to keep smiling.
“We just say to ourselves that this is just another chapter of her life.
“We are shrinking the tumour with chemotherapy at the moment and once it’s small enough they’re going to remove it.
“There’s an 80 per cent chance of it recurring, but that means there’s a 20 per cent chance it won’t.
“We never thought we would ever face anything like this.”
She added: “Cleo is still smiling through every single day. She still laughs and jokes, and the hospital has been amazing – she’s been having fun in their playroom. She’s a little warrior.
“On April 2 she started chemotherapy and she was on that for four days. It was draining. The chemo started making her ill and she’s had to have a blood transfusion and injections of so many different medications.
“She’s gone from being a normal happy child to a really poorly little thing and it’s really difficult to see.
“I’m sat there every day with her just watching her go down and down.
“She picks up infections really easily.
“I’m trying as hard as I can to stay positive and talk about it because when I talk about it it’s letting it out. But when I’m on my own my mind goes into overdrive and I’m just constantly crying.
“You start to think the worst once you’re on your own.
“When I see her smiling when I’m with her it makes everything much easier.
“Ryan rings me every day and when he asked me about Cleo he also makes sure I’m eating and everything. He’s my rock at the minute.”
The family has now set up a Facebook page, called Cleo’s Chapter, to document the toddler’s cancer fight.
They have also set up an online fundraiser to help with the cost of their regular journeys from Blackpool to Manchester Children’s Hospital.
Shannon said: “Cleo is bubbly and independent. She’s really advanced for her age. She’s not like other two-year-olds. Her speech is amazing. She speaks like a four or five-year-old.
“Because of how rare her cancer is, the survival rate is 25 to 35 per cent. But she’s a great child and a great little fighter. She’s been so strong in hospital.”
People can follow Cleo’s story and find links to her online fundraising campaign at www.facebook.com/cleoschapter.