Yorkshire toddler's insatiable thirst turned out to be cancer

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It was a mother's instincts that saved Pippa Gibb, her family pushing for tests even after the three-year-old's symptoms were dismissed as the whims of a tetchy toddler.

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What she has is a rare cancer, with a tumour blooming behind her eyes. With the right treatment, there is a hope chemotherapy can cure it by Christmas.

Claire Gibb pictured with her daughter Pippa aged 3 who has rare form of cancer, at their home at Adel, Leeds...Picture by Simon Hulme

Claire Gibb pictured with her daughter Pippa aged 3 who has rare form of cancer, at their home at Adel, Leeds...Picture by Simon Hulme

But had it not been for her gut instincts, says mother Claire Gibb, she wouldn't have pushed so hard for answers, paying privately for tests that uncovered a terrible diagnosis.

"Looking back I just really wish we had done something sooner," says the 36-year-old solicitor.

"At least we did trust our instincts, and we did push, and we did get a diagnosis. We just never thought it would be this serious."

Mrs Gibbs, 30-week's pregnant on the day of Pippa's diagnosis, now juggles eight-month-old baby Austin on her knee as we meet at the family's home in Adel, north Leeds.

Pippa Gibb, from Leeds, has been undergoing chemotherapy for a rare form of cancer. Picture: family.

Pippa Gibb, from Leeds, has been undergoing chemotherapy for a rare form of cancer. Picture: family.

He is an easy-natured child, entertained by his big sister's antics.

Pippa herself, a ball of energy pulling jigsaws from the shelves, is unrecognisable from the photographs of a year ago.

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Worrying symptoms

Her symptoms, of the cancer growing inside her, had begun with an obsession over water, escalating to the point where she was pinching other children's bottles at nursery.

Pippa Gibb's family, from Adel in north Leeds, fought to get a diagnosis, but were devastated to learn she had a rare cancer. Image: family.

Pippa Gibb's family, from Adel in north Leeds, fought to get a diagnosis, but were devastated to learn she had a rare cancer. Image: family.

It was initially dismissed by doctors as 'behavioural', with the toddler having just learned a new word to ask for a drink.

But over time say her parents, Mrs Gibb and husband John, 39, they could see changes in the way she was.

Always a lively child, Pippa was losing weight, and becoming withdrawn.

"She had no energy, she was lethargic," said Mrs Gibb. "She would watch the other children play, but she would just sit on her own.

Pippa Gibb, aged 3, who has rare form of cancer, at their home at Adel, Leeds..25th September 2019. Picture by Simon Hulme

Pippa Gibb, aged 3, who has rare form of cancer, at their home at Adel, Leeds..25th September 2019. Picture by Simon Hulme

"It became that she would do anything to get water. She would drink from the watering can, the paddling pool, the bath. She learned to climb, so she could turn the sink taps on."

The family, referred to various hospitals, were met with lengthy waiting lists and decided to pay privately for tests.

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Diagnosis

What the doctors found was that Pippa wasn't producing enough of a hormone which regulates her fluid intake, a condition called diabetes insipidus.

"Insipidus can be caused by a head injury, or brain surgery," says Mrs Gibb. "In Pippa's case they found a tumour, on the top of her skull, and underneath her right eye.

"I remember being in that room when they told us. It didn't sink in until they told us she would need chemotherapy.

"Everything changes in that moment. It was terrifying."

Pippa has an auto-immune condition, called langerhans cell histiocytosis, with the tumour on her pituitary gland resulting in numerous hormone deficiencies.

She started treatment immediately, a year's course of chemotherapy which will be completed at Christmas, though she will be on hormone replacement therapy for life.

The family are speaking out today, at the close of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Research released by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group has found that six in 10 people wouldn't be confident of recognising the symptoms in children, with the charity urging parents to trust their instincts when it comes to knowing something is wrong.

"We saw the difference within weeks of starting treatment, we got the old Pippa back," said Mrs Gibbs. "She's coping brilliantly, and we're just so proud of her.

"But for the future, she will be on medication for life, and that's quite a sad thing.

"Pippa is a normal toddler. But it can come back, and that's always on my mind. Once you've known the reality of it, it's set, that fear, that it can happen again.

"People say to me that they don't know we do it. We don't have a choice, we do what we have to. For your child, you get on with it."