Brave Isla keeps on smiling in fight with rare cancer

Isla-Grace Large, who is battling Ewing's sarcoma, with her parents Beth Hiley and Rhys Large. Picture by James Hardisty.
Isla-Grace Large, who is battling Ewing's sarcoma, with her parents Beth Hiley and Rhys Large. Picture by James Hardisty.
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Oblivious to the seriousness of her rare cancer diagnosis, 17-month-old Isla-Grace Large is a bright-eyed, smiling toddler.

This week the energetic tot, who lives in Yeadon, Leeds, had her fourth dose of intensive chemotherapy at Leeds General Infirmary as her pint-sized body battles with Ewing’s sarcoma – a cancer that impacts less than 30 people in the UK every year.

Isla’s condition only came to light when her parents, Beth Hiley and Rhys Large, both aged 20, were told of a swelling on the side of her neck by the youngster’s grandmother in September.

Understandably worried, the couple took Isla to hospital in Leeds, where they were told she had an infection and were given antibiotics. Three further visits to the doctor followed as the tumour swelled to the size of a satsuma, before a biopsy revealed that the youngster had the rare condition on October 24.

“I was devastated, and it was just awful the first few weeks after – it was all a bit of a blur with all of our appointments,” full-time mum Beth said. “It’s the worst thing for anybody to tell you that your child’s got cancer. You’re strong for your child.”

Ewing’s sarcoma is primarily a bone cancer more common in teenage boys, but in Isla’s rare case developed in a lymph node in her neck.

Beth and Rhys have supportive family and friends but initially struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis.

Dad Rhys, a live events technician who works in Bradford, said: “It was more disbelief at first. You think, ‘seriously, it’s a mistake and they will do some tests and come back to us to say it’s not cancer’.”

Brave Isla, whose hair has thinned due to her treatment, now faces two more rounds of intensive chemotherapy that continues to weaken her immune system while reducing her tumour, which is now barely visible.

All the while Isla is still as positive as ever. Pushing a pink plastic buggy around the family’s small first floor flat, the adorable tot is unaware that she faces more rounds of chemo, a major operation in Leeds in mid March and a trip to either the USA or Switzerland for special proton radiotherapy. Dependant on her health, she will then face up to eight lower doses of chemotherapy to fend off the cancer.

“She doesn’t know she’s got cancer and potentially could die, so when she’s out of hospital she can be happy,” Rhys said. “Her being the age she is and clueless to what’s going on is a lifesaver.”

And though Isla is facing the future unconcerned, her parents are on constantly on their guard. Doctors have warned them that the crucial time between them noticing Isla has a temperature and her getting treatment should be no longer than an hour, meaning Rhys has repeatedly had to rush home from work to get her to hospital on time.

Mum Beth added: “She’s just like a normal little kid. If this lump hadn’t of come up on her neck we wouldn’t have known anything was wrong with her. It could have been so different.”

With Isla’s spirits high, the family is looking forward to the youngster’s March operation which will see the tumour removed and the area cleaned. Then the potential for special radiotherapy abroad presents a new challenge.

The NHS would fund accommodation, flights and treatment for Isla although the young family’s stretched resources would be tested further by the fact that dad Rhys will have to go without pay, while rent at home and living costs during the therapy will have to come from their own pockets.

A family fun day fundraiser at LA Fitness, in Yeadon, on March 1 from 1.30pm has been organised to help support them. Visit www.islagracehospitaladventure.co.uk for information or to donate.