Whether to contact an acquaintance re: kids and cancer.
December 17, 2010 9:35 PM   Subscribe

A childhood friend posted some pictures of her children today on Facebook in which it appears that her older child has a common symptom of a type of cancer. Should I contact her about it, or should I stay out of it?

A childhood friend posted some photos of her children on her Facebook account today, and in one of the photos, it absolutely appears that her older child has leukocoria. In childhood, this is a common sign of retinoblastoma, but it can also be a symptom of other eye diseases or even a normal optic nerve reflex.

I'm torn as to whether I should say something to the mom, and if so, what and how. I would certainly want to know, but being that it's a week before Christmas, I am understandably a bit hesitant to suddenly message someone with whom I've only had intermittent contact over the years to say, "Hey, I think your child might have cancer."

Thoughts? Advice? Should I just keep my piehole shut?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Say something, in a private message on Facebook. This exact thing happened before (Facebook saves girls' life; Family friend spots eye cancer in photo taken by mother) and it is better to be safe than sorry. I might even link to this news article in the message to her.
posted by k8lin at 9:38 PM on December 17, 2010 [13 favorites]

"Hey, I'm sorry, I know this is a little odd, but I saw your picture of little Johnetta, and, well, it reminded me of something I heard of before. I mean, I'm sure it's nothing, just an odd reflection, but, hey, better safe than sorry, right?"

The consequences of being wrong are, indeed, awkward. The consequences of being right are far more significant.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:52 PM on December 17, 2010 [18 favorites]

Since there are several conditions which can cause this symptom, it seems unnecessarily alarmist to mention cancer in your message. But yes, you should tell the mother what you saw, explain that it could be a sign of illness and suggest that she get the child checked out by a doctor. If you're a medical professional and you're familiar with the progression of the disease, you might be able to make an informed decision that it's safe to wait until after Christmas. If not, tell them now. Going to the doctor won't necessarily ruin their Christmas; having a child sick with cancer definitely could.
posted by embrangled at 9:54 PM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Do it, today. Just say that you hate to be a busybody, but this one picture looks like it might indicate a problem that a doctor should look at. Better safe than sorry. I'm kinda nervous right now that you might not tell her.
posted by bluejayk at 9:57 PM on December 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm normally a Mind Your Own Beeswax kind of person. In this instance, give your friend a nudge to take the child to the doctor. If it's nothing, then great. If it's something, then it's better to know sooner rather than later.
posted by 26.2 at 10:11 PM on December 17, 2010

There is no solid reason to keep silent. The worst case scenario is that you give the parents a momentary fright over nothing. The best case scenario, depending on your POV, is either that you're totally correct and you save a child's life, or that the child does not have cancer at all, in which case you're wrong and life will keep on truckin'.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:19 PM on December 17, 2010

I agree that you should share this information with your friend. You could start out by saying "Has little Melissa seen an eye doctor recently?" This allows you to express your concern and suggest consulting a professional for an examination and diagnosis.
posted by germdisco at 10:47 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

It being close to Christmas really is all the more reason to tell them ASAP. Schedules are harder to arrange between Christmas and New Years, doctor's offices may be closed or on reduced hours, the family might have to wrangle with end-of-year health insurance weirdness, etc. That extra week they'd gain if you told them now is important, both prognostically and logistically.
posted by kagredon at 10:59 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

How could the answer to this question be "no"? What possible consequences or momentary awkwardness could outweigh possibly saving the child's life? Obviously you should say something. Just write a quick note that says what you said here.
posted by gerryblog at 11:17 PM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Ethically I think you have an obligation to say something, with relevant links/docs.
posted by mckenney at 11:33 PM on December 17, 2010

My son had Coats disease which has been successfully treated.
It was only after his diagnosis that i went back and saw the distinct yellow colour in the reflection of his eye in some of our family photos.

If I saw that symptom in someone else's photos I think it would always be the right thing to let them know.
posted by compound eye at 11:54 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I recall a previous thread on the green (unfortunately, I am not clever enough to find it) in which someone asked a similar question about telling a relative stranger (a cashier at a store maybe?) about noticing something that suspiciously looked like skin cancer. IIRC several people chimed in then with various stories about how attentive acquaintances and strangers pointing these things out had literally saved theirs and/or bunches of other people's lives.

Maybe someone cleverer than me can find and link that (those?) previously(s).
posted by Jacqueline at 12:37 AM on December 18, 2010

if you need an opener, send that link. the fact that this exact thing happened to someone else and it DID save a child's life makes it relevant and touching that you pay enough attention to your friend's life to want to make a difference. if it's nothing, it's nothing. but if it is something, even something the friend already knows, i'm sure they will appreciate the care and attention. i can't imagine a situation where someone would be put off by the prudent and caring attentiveness of a friend.

and don't worry about being a busybody -- you're not pointing out that the kid needs braces or something trivial. this could save a life.
posted by custard heart at 12:37 AM on December 18, 2010

It wasn't cancer when they noticed something similar in a relative's photos, but some potentially major eye issues ended up being caught far earlier than they would have been.
posted by weskit at 2:02 AM on December 18, 2010

If you saw this in my kid I'd want you to tell me (and if it could have been prevented but wasn't because you were silent and I found out, I'd murder you).
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:35 AM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

A guy I know is pretty much blind in one eye, and it shows up weird in photos. He can remember that he when he was little he used to have vision in both eyes, then one of them started going funny and he tried to tell people that he couldn't see properly, but nobody really believed him until some friend-of-a-relative saw a photo, recognised what was going on, and said something to his parents. So say something, for goodness sake!
posted by Lebannen at 4:27 AM on December 18, 2010

Say something. My mom's hairdresser spotted an odd patch on my mother's face, which turned out to be a skin cancer (successfully removed, thank God).

"I hope this turns out to be nothing. But for your sake, and your child's, I couldn't *not* mention this."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:35 AM on December 18, 2010

For me, a child's well-being takes precedence over social niceties. At that point, the only question is of delivering the message without inducing panic or coming off as being more strange than is required.

I just had to do this with a friend's kid — he came in from the pool, shirtless, and walked past me. Something went twing! in my brain and I looked closely at him, then I dropped a pen. He picked it up and his spine looked like it was curved oddly. His scalpula on the left moved in a way that said not right, problem when he moved his left arm.

While his attention was elsewhere, I look at his mom and mouth "Hey, look at his back, his shoulder is about two centimeters lower on this side" while pointing. His mom, a nurse, had him go through about the same set of motions and said, "Oh, crap, how did I not see this?"

"Because you see him every. single. day. Too gradual to notice changes."

Fortunately, as he's in the single digit age range, this is a good time to catch it. So I get a couple more points in the Weird column. Big deal. It's a good trade for having a kid with a healthy back.
posted by adipocere at 5:39 AM on December 18, 2010

I've had total strangers do this to me, twice. (I posted a picture of my son on my blog and people commented that I should have him checked.) It didn't upset me or anything like that, but I did mention it when I took him to the eye doctor the next time we went (he's near sighted). He got a clean bill of health, no harm no foul.
posted by Lucinda at 6:12 AM on December 18, 2010

From a user who would prefer to remain anonymous:
I had cancer on (not "in", in my case) my eye as an adult. Because of it's location on my eyeball I couldn't see it in the mirror. My aunt spotted it at Thanksgiving dinner, though she didn't know what it was. My family nagged me to see a doctor and I did just so they would let it go, thinking all the time it was nothing (how serious could it be if I couldn't even see it?).

Please tell her.
posted by jessamyn at 6:23 AM on December 18, 2010

My half-brother's mother didn't like the way a mole looked on my leg. She pestered me and pestered him to pester me about getting it looked at (she had recently gone through treatment for skin cancer). I went to the dermatologist after being fed up with my brother asking me, every day, if I had gone. The dermatologist didn't like it either and removed it on the spot, but what she didn't like even more was a lump on my face, near my ear. Turns out I had a parotid gland tumor and was undergoing surgery to remove it about two weeks later; that's how concerned all the doctors were. I got fast-tracked. Thank goodness it was benign, but what was supposed to be a 2-hour surgery ended up being a 4-hour surgery because the tumor was so intertwined with my nerves. Had I waited even a few months longer, I probably would have lost all feeling on the left side of my face plus the normal movement of my muscles because the tumor would have been that much more difficult to remove.

Tell your friend.
posted by cooker girl at 9:02 AM on December 18, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks, all. I had never really considered not telling my friend about what I saw in the photo; I think I was looking for advice on what to say and reassurance that I wasn't out of line for doing so. I especially appreciate the responses from those who have experience with this particular symptom, and I'm going to send her a private FB message today with some of the links and information that you all have provided. Thanks again.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:45 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
I did end up sending my friend a gentle message with information about the "white eye;" she responded gratefully and offered that her daughter was already seeing a pediatric opthalmologist due to her prematurity, and that she would bring it up to the doctor at her daughter's next visit. Happily, I received a follow-up message today saying that aside from a slight lazy eye, her daughter received a clean bill of health. I am so relieved! Thanks for all of your advice.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:15 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know we've all moved on, but this story from the UK might be further persuasion to speak up for anyone finding this question in the future.
posted by andraste at 11:42 PM on May 9, 2011

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