SAN ANTONIO – Observant parents found a key sign of cancer in a picture of their baby. The now-3-year-old is still going through treatment for retinoblastoma, a rare and deadly eye cancer found in children.
During Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Celia Casarez's parents are sharing her story in hopes of saving other children.
Celia is spunky, joyous and adorable.
"She's completely resilient. You literally would have no idea that something's wrong with her," said Lauren Casarez, Celia's mother.
Celia's been through a lot in her little life. It all started with a picture Casarez took of Celia when the child was 5 months old.
The photo was taken straight on with flash. Instead of the red eye many people get in pictures, Celia's right eye was cloudy with a white glow, which is a sign of the very aggressive eye cancer called retinoblastoma. There is even a hashtag — #KnowTheGlow — for the disease.
Celia was quickly diagnosed, and within days, she started chemotherapy.
"She had a port placed ... and started chemo right away. I think she was 6 months old when she started chemo and she went through six months of it," Casarez said.
The chemotherapy shrank the tumor, but it didn't go away completely.
"She now gets what's called eye exams under anesthesia about once a month. The doctor dilates her eyes and gives laser therapy to the tumor," Casarez said.
Since they caught the cancer so early, Celia did not lose her eye or all of her vision. She still has about 60 percent of her vision in her right eye, but that percentage will dwindle as she continues laser treatment.
Still, Celia is extremely lucky, and Casarez wants other parents to be aware.
"If they're not able to see it with the flash of a camera, they're seeing signs like an eye drifting or the child is complaining of not being able to see. The difference between a couple (of) months of diagnosis can really make a big difference," Casarez said.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The retina stops growing when a person reaches age 5, so once Celia hits that age, there's a much higher chance of remission.