Erin Gentry was two years old when she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma (Rb), she needed lifesaving surgery to remove her left eye and stop the cancer spreading, followed by chemotherapy.
Fast forward five years and Erin has been featured as part of BBC 3’s Amazing Humans series where she was filmed helping other children at Eye Club to gain confidence in themselves again.
Erin spent over a year struggling to get to grips with wearing an artificial eye herself but having mastered it she now dedicates her time to teaching other children at a special group at The Royal London Hospital called Eye Club. Sometimes these are younger children but sometimes they are older than Erin.
BBC Three chose to celebrate this amazing achievement after Erin was named a CHECT Champion by the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT), an award that recognises the courage, resilience and patience shown by all children affected by Rb.
Erin was nominated by Gemma Melisi, Play Specialist at the Royal London Hospital which hosts the Eye Club, and where Erin was diagnosed. Gemma said: “Erin teaches all the children who are not confident with their artificial eye. She shows them how to clean their special eye and how to put it in and out. Erin is an amazing teacher and loves to help the other children. Without people like her, Eye Club simply wouldn’t work.”
Erin was diagnosed with Rb after her parents noticed she had a squint that seemed to come on suddenly. Having seen the squint become more pronounced over the weekend they took her to the GP on the Tuesday, who referred them to Moorfields Eye Hospital. By Wednesday they were at the Royal London Hospital, one of two specialist centres for Rb in the UK, being given the diagnosis.
Her mum, Tamzin Caffrey said: “The doctors discovered that Erin couldn’t see out of her left eye at all which was a complete shock. We’d had no idea that anything was wrong.”
Erin still has check-ups but doctors have told her that the cancer is very unlikely to reoccur. However, for a long time she really found it difficult to get used to wearing an artificial eye, which makes her transformation into a teacher even more remarkable.
Tamzin said: “We tried to encourage Erin to take her eye out, wash it and put it back in every week but it took years before the tears stopped. Then one day, about two years ago, we were at a hospital appointment and she just took it out herself as if it was no big deal. It was the first time she’d done it and was a turning point for Erin. Once she got to the stage where she could confidently handle her eye herself, Erin wanted to teach other children too.
“We are so proud of Erin, who having gained the confidence to care for her artificial eye through attending Eye Club, is helping others on the same journey. I hope the Amazing Humans film will continue to inspire other Rb kids struggling with their eyes”.
This article first appeared in In Focus Autumn/Winter 2017