A schoolboy who complained to his mum of neck pain while washing his hair is fighting for his life after being diagnosed with a rare cancer.
McKenzie John, 8, first started suffering neck pain while taking a shower in November last year.
In January he visited a GP, who dismissed his symptoms as a viral infection.
But during a second GP visit in February, the doctor spotted McKenzie’s hugely swollen lymph nodes and prescribed him with antibiotics.
Rhian John, his mother. said: "He’s always been a strong and healthy kid, and he never made a fuss or tried to skip school, so it was unusual for him to complain of this neck pain.
"Whenever he tried to tip his head back to wash his hair, he’d say it really hurt.
"We didn’t think it was anything serious, but by January he was still complaining and felt generally unwell.
"When he didn’t improve, he was put on antibiotics – but he didn't improve and his blood tests came back negative for infection."
McKenzie underwent chest X-rays which also returned clear.
He was admitted to Swansea’s Morriston hospital for five days for a round of examinations, including testing for glandular fever and tuberculosis, but they, too, came back negative.
It was only on 6 March that an MRI scan revealed his tumour.
Rhian added: "They’d planned to do a biopsy on his lymph nodes at the same time, so he was under general anaesthetic.
"But the MRI scan revealed this lump at the back of his throat, and while they were investigating the tumour McKenzie suffered a massive bleed.
"It was awful. Even the hospital staff were clearly shaken and no one at Morriston had seen this type of cancer before."
Now McKenzie is undergoing chemotherapy in Cardiff to treat the tumour.
The cancer – which affects the part of the throat connecting the mouth and the nose – strikes just 250 a year in the UK.
He is currently on his second of three rounds of chemo and next month is due to begin treatment at the UK’s only proton beam therapy centre – Manchester’s Christie NHS Foundation Trust – which opened last year.
His mother, Rhian John, an NHS health care support worker, said: "I’m absolutely heartbroken. I never expected something like this to happen to us.
"It’s a hell of a lot for an eight year old to cope with. McKenzie is in high spirits, but he has a long road ahead of him."
The NHS website advises that nasopharyngeal cancer is hard to spot in its early stages as it shares symptoms with less serious conditions.
Tumours can be advanced before sufferers experience problems such as lumps in the neck, hearing loss, tinnitus or nose bleeds.
The exact cause is unknown, but various factors can increase the risk of developing nasopharyngeal cancer, including exposure to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes glandular fever.
Exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV) may also increase the risk, and the NHS advises that people of south Chinese or north African descent are more likely to develop the condition.
For four days McKenzie lay in an induced coma on a paediatric critical care unit before he was transferred to an oncology ward at the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital in Cardiff.
There he was given ‘adult doses’ of chemotherapy.
Rhian continued: "McKenzie’s medical records show that at some point in the past his bloods tested positive for Glandular Fever, so we’re wondering if the cancer has developed from that.
"He’s currently on chemo round the clock for six days at a time, but will be going up to Manchester for proton beam therapy the first or second week of May.
"McKenzie understands he has cancer, he lost all his hair after his first dose of chemo, but he’s getting on with it, taking it in his stride."
Proton beam therapy is a type of radiotherapy often used to treat complex brain, head and neck cancers.
Rhian, who also has three teenage children – Jordan, 19, Kai, 16, and Leonie, 14 – has been off work while she cares for McKenzie.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help support her stay in Manchester. Click here to donate.
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