Girl, 4, developed cancer tumour so big it looked like she ‘swallowed a basketball’

Eloise Lonergan used to “kick and scream like something from a horror film” because she was traumatised by needles, masks and medical procedures she had to endure

Eloise Lonergan
Eloise Lonergan

A four-year-old developed a cancer tumour so big during lockdown it looked like she had ‘swallowed a basketball’.

Eloise Lonergan was diagnosed with kidney cancer in May 2020 shortly after the country was put in lockdown.

She used to “kick and scream like something from a horror film” because she was traumatised by needles, masks and medical procedures

The toddler endured weeks of persistent tummy aches before a visible swelling appeared in her stomach.

She also developed night sweats and her parents were told to take her to A&E at Leicester Royal Infirmary immediately.

Her frightened mum Jenny told LeicestershireLive: “Due to the pandemic, my husband, James, had to wait outside. We had to have tests, self-isolate and everything, so I was alone with Eloise when the doctor examined her and said: “There’s definitely a malignancy there.’

Eloise with dad, James and mum, Jenny


Cancer Research)

“I wasn’t expecting that at all – I couldn’t make sense of it at first. Then they said I could call James and bring him into hospital and I realised it must be really serious. It was quite terrifying.”

After blood transfusions and scans, a 15cm tumour was discovered in Eloise’s tummy, along with numerous smaller tumours. But the doctors couldn’t find where the cancer had started.

During extensive testing, Eloise’s abdomen started to swell and her health declined rapidly, leading her to be transferred to Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.

Jenny added: “The consultant said the tumour was growing exponentially – like a snowball that was doubling in size as it rolled downhill. You could see it get larger every day.

“It was so large Eloise’s clothes didn’t fit. She was wandering round the ward in a nappy, looking as if she’d swallowed a basketball.”

Doctors suspected her cancer was stage four neuroblastoma, which develops in early nerve cells.

“We were told it was very difficult cancer to cure and that chemotherapy would start immediately,” said Jenny.

Intensive chemotherapy made Eloise very poorly but then the family received some unexpected news.

More detailed scans showed that the tumour wasn’t neuroblastoma, but Wilm’s tumour, a type of kidney cancer with a much better prognosis.

Leicester Royal Infirmary where Eloise was treated


Leicester Mercury / BPM Media)

Jenny said: “From the very first chemo the swelling in her stomach started to go down. After six weeks of pre-operative chemotherapy it had shrunk so much it seemed like a miracle.”

In July, Eloise had a 10-hour operation to remove her kidney, tumour and her adrenal gland. She also had part of her liver, the tip of her gall bladder and lymph nodes removed

She later had to undergo a further 28 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by radiotherapy and the impact of cancer altered her previously sweet and gentle personality.

Jenny said “The whole experience was overwhelming for her because she was too young to understand it. The isolation was the worst thing because of Covid.

“Eloise and I were in hospital for the first month and couldn’t see her dad or her brother Dylan. She really missed them. I was the one in hospital with her, allowing people to do all these necessary – but from her point of view, awful – things, so she blamed me.

“There were many occasions when I had to hold her down while they carried out medical procedures because it was the only way we could get it done. She used to look at me and scream, ‘I hate you!’ It was harrowing.

“Sometimes it was like a scene from a horror film. She worked out that if she kicked and screamed and fitted like a mad thing, the nurses would back off.

“She would curl up and hide in the smallest corner she could find. Even when we got home she’d be hysterical if she realised we were going back to hospital.

“Her hair was falling out anyway but she’d pull it out in lumps if we went to hospital. I used to have to smuggle the suitcase into the car so she didn’t know where we were going.

“She still freaks out if she sees someone in a mask because she associates them with hospital.”

During all the distress, Jenny nominated her daughter for a Cancer Research UK Star award.

Every child nominated receives the accolade, which is backed by a host of famous faces.

As well as a star shaped trophy, Eloise aeceived a £50 TK Maxx gift card, t-shirt and a certificate signed by the celebrities. Her brother Dylan (14) received a certificate, too.

Jenny said: “Eloise really loved getting her Star award. It made her feel so special amid all the dreadful stuff. She’s quite the little shopper so she was delighted with the TKMaxx vouchers that came with it and was straight in the store buying a pink dress, shoes and some books.”

In March this year Eloise had a clear scan that showed no evidence of the cancer she referred to as ‘Lumpy.’

She still has many hospital appointments, a big scar called ‘Stripey’, and scans every few months, but life and her personality are returning to normal and is now looking forward to Christmas at home with her family.

Jane Redman of Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People said: “Eloise is a real star who has been through so much at such a young age.

“It has been an absolute privilege to be able to celebrate her courage with a Star Award.

“Cancer in children and young people is different from cancer in adults, from the types of cancer to the impact of treatment – and many youngsters may experience serious long-term side effects.

“That’s why we’re supporting dedicated research to ensure more children and young people survive cancer with a good quality of life.

“We’re urging people in Leicestershire to nominate inspirational children like Eloise now, so that many more affected by this devastating disease can receive the acknowledgement they so richly deserve.”

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