George was diagnosed with this first cancer, (embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma in the left temporalis muscle), on his second birthday. That was at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and it had taken us a long time to get him there. His mother, Gina, had died of metastatic ovaria cancer just ten months previously. Part of the delay in getting him diagnosed was the assumption that we were just being paranoid. The odds of him getting cancer so soon after his mother had died of it were assumed to be astronomical. When the diagnosis was finally made we were all stunned. Was it something to do with his mother’s illness? The doctors assured us that this was an unlucky (way, way, way unlucky) coincidence.
Fast forward to George at 15, and the discovery of a basal cell carcinoma during a routine and unrelated visit to the doctor. A second cancer, completely unrelated to what he had as a child. This time the explanation was that it was most likely a long term side-effect of the radiotherapy he had as a child.
Only a few months later George was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in the right side of his jaw (the mandible to be exact). A third cancer, and it had taken many weeks of going from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, to get it diagnosed, even though we knew there was something seriously wrong. How could it be that my son had three different cancers? One hypothesis at the time was that like the basal cell carcinoma, the osteosarcoma was a long term side effect of radiotherapy. However, the mystery was finally solved after having a genetic test of his TP53 gene. This is an important tumour suppressor gene, and in his case he had a specific defect that identified him as having classical Li Fraumeni Syndrome (LFS). Once his test result came in other members of the family were also tested and found to be not carrying the mutation – making it most likely that it came from his mother after all.