I was told my baby was just constipated for a year but now she's fighting for her life

THE MUM of a five-year-old girl fighting for her life with cancer claims doctors repeatedly misdiagnosed her with constipation.

Dulcie O'Kelly had been complaining of tummy pains when her parents took her to the doctors last January.


The family from Telford, Shropshire, claims they were told their daughter’s swollen stomach was caused by constipation.

Despite persistent swelling, they say Dulcie was never sent for scans which would have shown a growing tumour.

Mum Debbie, 39, pushed for more answers, believing her little girl had a food intolerance.

Eventually in November 2021, Dulcie had a scan which showed a cancerous mass measuring 17cm by 12cm in her stomach.

Sadly a biopsy the following month revealed she had neuroblastoma – a cancer that affects around 100 children a year in the UK, according to the NHS.

Neuroblastoma most commonly occurs in one of the adrenal glands situated above the kidneys, or in the nerve tissue that runs alongside the spinal cord in the neck, chest, tummy or pelvis.

Dulcie's aggressive cancer has spread to her pelvis, bone marrow, legs and spine.

Mum-of-one, Debbie, said: “The diagnosis was such a shock.

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“Our entire world has crashed around us and never in a million years did we suspect it was cancer.

“We had never heard of neuroblastoma.

“When we got the diagnosis I cried in disbelief, how can my daughter have cancer?

“We have gone through every emotion possible, thinking why was it not spotted sooner.”

Almost half of neuroblastomas are a type that can return despite intensive treatment. 

With only 67 per cent of patients in England surviving five years or more, neuroblastoma has one of the lowest survival rates of all childhood cancers.

Dulcie’s parents say doctors have not told them how likely Dulcie is to survive.

The youngster is now on her fifth round of intense chemotherapy in a bid to save her life.

Doctors are looking at surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible after Dulcie has completed seven rounds of chemotherapy.

Debbie said: “Doctors have told us that the cancer is treatable.

“Neuroblastoma is the second most aggressive cancer in children.

“We need to stop the tumour in her stomach growing and spreading further around her body.”

Spot the signs

Debbie wants other parents to be aware of the signs of cancer because “if we had known sooner what Dulcie was suffering with, it may not have spread so aggressively through her body”,

She said: “We were completely unaware that her symptoms could be something so life threatening and all we can do now is pray doctors have still caught it in time.

“The symptoms I want to make other parents aware of include a swollen tummy and constipation.

“It can cause children to walk quite unsteadily and have a weakness in their legs.

“A loss of energy, weight loss and loss of appetite are all signs too.

“I want to raise as much awareness as possible of this terrible disease because it was easily mistaken for something else.

“You don’t think it will ever happen to your child. It is a rare cancer but GPs and parents need to recognise the symptoms and if you have any concerns, push for more tests.”

The family have also launched a £200,000 fundraising appeal to pay for lifesaving treatment in the US, in case her treatment in the UK does not work.

Debbie explained: “The treatment plan for Dulcie in the UK is for 12 to 18 months, it’s a long road to recovery and could take two years to be in remission’.

“There is the potential that she will never be cancer-free because of the type of cancer it is.

“We have started to fundraise for this possibility now, because we need to know we have enough funds for the treatment in the US.

“Whilst we hope going to America won’t be necessary, we have to be prepared to do everything possible for our little girl.

“If in 18 months we are in the position that we won’t require this lifesaving trip then any funds raised will be either passed to another family who does need it or donated to several childhood cancer charities.”

For now, the family are taking each day as it comes and focusing on Dulcie’s chemotherapy.

Debbie said: “Dulcie is a superstar, she smiles through it even when she is tired and she bounces back.

“She is very grown up for her age, she knows she has cancer but she asks questions that I can’t answer, she wants to know why she has cancer.

“It breaks my heart to see her going through this.

“I have my good and bad days, but her strength gives me strength and most days she is coping really well.”

To donate, visit GoFundMe.

To follow Dulcie's journey with cancer, see her Instagram page @dulcies_neuroblastoma_journey.




Symptoms to watch for

Neuroblastoma

The symptoms of neuroblastoma vary depending on where the cancer is and whether it's spread, the NHS says.

The early symptoms can be vague and hard to spot, and can easily be mistaken for those of more common childhood conditions.

Symptoms can include:

  • a swollen, painful tummy, sometimes with constipation and difficulty peeing
  • breathlessness and difficulty swallowing
  • a lump in the neck
  • blueish lumps in the skin and bruising, particularly around the eyes
  • weakness in the legs and an unsteady walk, with numbness in the lower body, constipation and difficulty peeing
  • fatigue, loss of energy, pale skin, loss of appetite and weight loss
  • bone pain, a limp and general irritability
  • rarely, jerky eye and muscle movements

Childhood cancer

See your GP if your child has unusual signs or symptoms that do not go away, such as:

  • an unusual lump or swelling
  • unexplained paleness and loss of energy
  • easy bruising or bleeding
  • an ongoing pain in one area of the body
  • limping
  • unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t go away
  • frequent headaches, often with vomiting
  • sudden eye or vision changes
  • sudden unexplained weight loss

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