A schoolgirl was found to have cancerous tumours ‘crushing her heart and windpipe’ after a GP initially dismissed her symptoms as a viral infection.
Imogen Bloxham, from Tamworth, Staffordshire, was rushed to hospital on June 6 after her mother noticed she had turned ‘yellow’.
It followed months of NHS waits and missed opportunities to catch the 12-year-old’s cancer early.
Back in February, Imogen went to the GP complaining of itchy skin, night sweats and fatigue. Her mother, Natalie, also noticed unusual lumps on her neck.
Their family doctor initially said Imogen had a viral infection and told the family to come back in three weeks if the symptoms hadn’t improved.
But Imogen caught Covid in that time, and doctors then thought her symptoms might’ve been the result of the pandemic-causing virus.
When her symptoms still failed to clear, the doctor said Imogen needed a hospital appointment for further tests, but the family were told this could take three months.
Ms Bloxham eventually rushed her daughter to hospital in early June after noticing her daughter’s skin turned jaundice – a sign her organs were struggling to function.
Medics initially thought a lump on Imogen Bloxham’s neck was a viral infection. Imogen here pictured on her 12th birthday
But months later after being rushed to hospital with jaundice it was eventually revealed Imogen had a rare form of cancer called Hodgkin lymphoma
Scans revealed tumours (highlighted in pink) cased by the cancer were effectively crushing her heart and windpipe and had also spread to other parts of her lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands spread throughout the body
Scans revealed a cluster of tumours around the youngster’s heart and windpipe that were restricting blood and oxygen being pumped around her body.
Further tests showed Imogen had stage three cancer Hodgkin lymphoma.
The cancer develops in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands throughout the body that normally helps fight off infections.
It is considered a rare cancer with only 2,100 cases in the UK diagnosed each year. Three-quarters of patients survive 10 or more years.
Since her diagnosis, Imogen has been undergoing chemotherapy to try and reduce the size of the tumours.
Speaking about the ordeal, Ms Bloxham, 34, said her GP initially thought the lumps on her daughter’s neck were a viral infection.
‘I took her to the GP as soon as I noticed [lumps in neck] and they advised it could be viral and to wait three weeks,’ she said.
Imogen with her step-dad Martin Turford and her mother Natalie Bloxham. Imogen’s cancer diagnosis was further delayed after she caught Covid
While waiting for further tests to be done at hospital, which the family were told could take up to three months, they took Imogen to Greece in an attempt to lift her spirits
Following her cancer diagnosis Imogen has been undergoing chemotherapy in an attempt to shrink the tumours
The family have been told Imogen’s condition likely means she will lose her hair and may have problems having children in the future
A family friend has set up a fundraiser for Imogen to help buy her a wig and support the family financially during this time
Ms Bloxham, who worked as a carer prior to her daughter’s cancer diagnosis, said Covid delayed the diagnosis.
‘I waited three weeks and in that time Imogen caught Covid,’ she said.
‘When the GP called back they advised me Covid could irritate them and to wait even further. Then they referred her for a hospital appointment.’
This, the mother-of-one said, was when the family were told it could be three months before Imogen was given a scan.
What is Hodgkin lymphoma?
Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands spread throughout the body.
The lymphatic system is part of your immune system. Clear fluid called lymph flows through the lymphatic vessels and contains infection-fighting white blood cells, known as lymphocytes.
In Hodgkin lymphoma, B-lymphocytes (a particular type of lymphocyte) start to multiply in an abnormal way and begin to collect in certain parts of the lymphatic system, such as the lymph nodes (glands).
The most common symptom of Hodgkin lymphoma is a painless swelling in a lymph node, usually in the neck, armpit or groin.
These lumps can also be a sign of an infection but they usually go back to normal over a short time whereas with Hodgkin lymphoma they continue to grow.
It is most commonly treated through chemotherapy.
‘The GP said they sent it through as urgent but when I spoke to the hospital they changed it to routine and would take three months for an appointment,’ she said.
At this point the family, totally unaware it could be cancer, opted to go on holiday to Greece to lift Imogen’s spirits.
‘I wanted Imogen to have a good time as she hadn’t been herself for a while,’ she added.
Just two weeks after coming back to the UK, Ms Bloxham said she noticed her daughter’s condition had worsened.
‘Imogen turned yellow, had a temperature of 40 and had funny-coloured urine,’ she said.
‘I called the doctors first thing on 6 June who saw her straight away.’
The GP said Imogen had jaundice and advised the family rush her to hospital.
Upon arriving, Imgoen’s mother said medics initially blamed her jaundice on Covid before scans revealed the tumours that were crushing her heart and windpipe.
‘They tried to blame Imogen having Covid for her symptoms of jaundice until they did a chest X-ray.
‘This is where they found a cluster of tumours around her heart that were crushing her windpipe.’
Further tests eventually revealed Imogen had stage three Hodgkin lymphoma and was immediately put on chemotherapy in an attempt to shrink the tumours.
Ms Bloxham said: ‘Imogen had five days of intense chemo as well as steroids to help shrink the tumours.
‘We have been told Imogen is at high risk of infections and she has started to lose her hair.’
Doctors have also told the family that Imogen might struggle to have children of her own in the future due to the chemotherapy.
But, Ms Bloxham said her family were ‘holding on’ to the fact that Hodgkin lymphoma is considered easily treatable, with a 90 per cent success rate.
The disease can develop at any age, but it mostly found in people between 20 and 40 years of age, and those over 75.
About 300 people die from the cancer each year, though 75 per cent of those diagnosed go on to survive for over a decade.
In the US, there are about 8,500 new cases of Hodgkin lymphoma per year and some 950 deaths.
A friend of the family, Samantha Dawson, has set up a crowdfunding page to help as Ms Bloxham has been forced to quit her to help their daughter.
Funds raised will be used to help the family financially as well as to buy Imogen a wig as she loses her hair to chemotherapy. People can donate to fundraiser here.