How a cell phone photo helped this dad detect his son's cancer

In this photo, Owen Scrivens noticed that one of his son’s eyes was red while the other had a white reflection. (Photo: GoFundMe)

Jaxson Scrivens was about a year old when his parents, Owen and Emily, observed something odd after taking a photo of him on their smartphone. Gazing at the photo, Owen noticed that one of his son’s eyes was red while the other eye had a white reflection.

After researching online, the U.K. couple discovered that a camera flash could help detect potential cases of retinoblastoma — a malignant tumour of the retina that affects children. The flash essentially creates a white reflection in the pupil of the child’s eye, highlighting a tumour that isn’t otherwise noticeable. The reflection might only be visible in photos where the healthy eye appears red from the flash.

“I looked through some old photos and you actually can see the point where it changes in late November,” Owen said in an interview with Metro U.K. ‘There’d been nothing else wrong, although after we noticed the eye colour he started to develop a bit of a squint.”

Jaxson was born five weeks premature, and the doctors already gave him a clean bill of health, but Owen and Emily didn’t take any chances.

During an initial examination with an ophthalmologist, they were told that Jaxson “probably had astigmatism and would need to wear glasses.” He was referred to specialists at Royal London Hospital where a retinal scan was performed. Doctors confirmed he had retinoblastoma.

Little Jaxson may always have a temporary loss of peripheral vision in the right eye, but chemotherapy was an option to save his eye and to get rid of the tumour.

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Scans of Jaxson’s eyes. During an initial examination with an ophthalmologist, they were told that Jaxson “probably had astigmatism and would need to wear glasses.” (Photo: GoFundMe)

On the family’s GoFundMe page (they raised more than $1,600 CAD in one day) Owen heartbreakingly captures how his now 14-month-old son must feel, describing the treatment from Jaxson’s point of view:

“Chemotherapy has made me lose my hair, made me sick, tired, weak and everything I eat tastes like metal although now I have a lot of meds to try and control the sickness. The side effects make me a very grizzly boy.”

Jaxson endured his first round of chemo on Dec. 30, 2016. It shrank the tumour by a third, but Jaxson has to have chemo administered every three weeks and his blood taken on a weekly basis. To do this, doctors inserted a Hickman line into the top of his heart — the line is placed through his neck and sits on his chest. Each week nurses visit to change the dressings that surround the line. Still the family is hopeful that Jaxson’s story will encourage other parents to be aware of retinoblastoma.

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Jaxson had to undergo chemo to shrink his tumour.  (Photo: GoFundMe)

“What’s really shocked us from talking to people is them saying ‘my niece or nephew had a white glow in their eye but we didn’t think anything of it’,” Owen told Metro.

Although a white spot in the eye doesn’t always mean there’s a tumour present, early diagnoses is critical toward effective treatment.

“It’s something so simple to spot, it doesn’t come up in every photo and not everyone will be able to spot it but a lot of people will,” Owen continued. “Some children at the hospital had both their eyes removed, which is horrible, and we want people to catch it early.”

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