There was something about Annabelle Leigh Jones that didn’t seem right to her mother, Victoria. Annabelle was the youngest of Victoria’s three daughters. All were happy, healthy babies, but by age 2, Annabelle seemed a little more sensitive than her sisters. She would wake up in the night and cry, and was more susceptible to infections than her sisters had been at that age.
When little Annabelle suffered a seizure, Victoria knew something wasn’t right even when her pediatrician said the seizure was febrile and would likely never happen again. But it did happen again, three weeks later. And then another and another. For nearly a year, Annabelle’s health suffered but all the doctors visits and tests couldn’t find the source.
Then one day, Annabelle was playing with her older sister when her sister saw the slightest cloud in the pupil of her eye. She called it to the attention of Victoria. “It was scary,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what it was but I knew something was wrong.”
Victoria took her daughter to the optometrist the next day and that’s when the cloud in Annabelle’s eye was diagnosed as retinoblastoma, a rare cancerous tumor in the retina of the eye most commonly diagnosed in young children. The cancer is aggressive and can spread quickly, but if caught early, almost all patients can be cured. By the time Annabelle was finally diagnosed, the cancer had already spread to her right eye. She was referred to the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, where surgeons removed her left eye and treated the tumors in her right eye.
Annabelle received chemotherapy and follow up care at Children’s of Alabama. The doctors at staff at Children’s helped her through the road to recovery. Although it was long, Annabelle flourished. It’s been more than a decade and the soon-to-be 15-year-old has not let the scars of her cancer hold her back. She wears an ocular prosthesis and has limited vision, but “She does what she wants,” Victoria says. “She wanted to ice skate but had balance issues so she trained herself to work through it. She’s very determined that way. And now she ice skates competitively. Annabelle is a true survivor. “We just feel blessed that everything worked out like it has.”