A mother in Kansas is urging parents to take their child’s complaints seriously after her son’s stomach pains that were initially dismissed as constipation were actually a symptom of liver cancer.
“They said that if I didn’t find this when I did it could have spread to his lungs,” Haley Halstead, Vincent Gonzaga’s mother, told KSNW.
“I took him to the doctor several times last year about this time,” she told the news outlet. “And they just kept saying it was constipation.”
But in early December, Halstead noticed her son’s stomach seemed swollen and his pain was getting worse. She took him to the Hutchinson Clinic, where he was then transferred to the Hutchinson Regional Medical Center for possible appendicitis, but according to Halstead the doctor instead diagnosed constipation again, HutchNews.com reported.
But this time, Halstead pushed for a CT scan, which revealed lumps on Vincent’s liver and led to a transfer to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, where days later he was diagnosed with stage 3 hepatoblastoma.
“You have to listen to them,” Halstead said, of her son’s complaints. “They know they’re hurting somewhere and you have to fix that for them,” she told KSNW.
Hepatoblastoma is the most common childhood liver cancer, but it’s still extremely rare and occurs in only about 2 to 3 people in one million. It typically strikes within the first three years of life and can present as an abdominal mass that causes pain. According to the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the tumor can be cured with surgical removal, but depending on size and location it can also be cured with liver transplantation.
According to CHP, up to 80 percent of children treated with liver transplantation survive longer than 20 years without recurrence. Vincent’s oncologist, Dr. Sean Pyper, said they are optimistic about Vincent’s case, and that he will undergo several rounds of chemotherapy before an eventual liver transplant, but that parents can play a key role in helping to diagnose rare illnesses.
“I’m not nearly spending the amount of time with them that a parent is,” he told KSNW. “So, when a parent is around their child day in and day out for years, I try to listen to that."