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What would you do if you found a strange white spot in the place of the traditional "red eye" in a picture of your child? One mom found that keeping a close eye on your kids' eyes can save lives: the white reflection turned out to be a rare eye cancer.

What would you do if you took a picture of your child, only to notice that that annoying "red eye" wasn't present? As one mother found out, this unusual symptom can be the sign of a rare and deadly form of eye cancer. Thankfully, her vigilance and pro-activity saved her son's life.

"Probably a couple [of] months [ago] I would notice when I was looking at Avery in a light, I would see something in the back of his eye," parent Julie Fitzgerald told CNN. Worried that something may be seriously wrong with her son, Julie did what most modern parents would probably do — she took to the internet. She found articles describing people whose photographs would show up with "white eye" instead of that notorious red eye, and discovered that this could be a sign of eye cancer. 

Her husband Patrick brushed Julie's concerns off, but she pressed ahead and took what was probably the most terrifying snapshot of her life. "I took the picture and boom, his whole pupil was just white, and that’s when I knew."

Next followed a roller coaster of medical intervention. Specialists soon discovered that 75 percent of two-year old Avery's left eye was consumed by tumors called retinoblastomas, and also that this rapidly-growing cancer had probably only started developing six weeks prior. The story quickly went viral, and with good reason: it illustrates how two of the things we probably all do can save our kids' lives. Taking family photos and browsing the web for medical information aren't useless pastimes, this story reveals. 

What Are Retinoblastomas?

Retinoblastoma is a very rare form of eye cancer, but the most common one in children. This form of cancer makes up three percent of all cancer cases diagnosed in children under the age of 15. Two-thirds of all cases are diagnosed in children under two years old, and 95 percent in kids below the age of five. As the name suggests, retinoblastoma begins in the retina, the part of the eye that senses light and sends information to the brain through the optic nerve. As it progresses, retinoblastoma can move to the ocular coats and optic nerve, and even to the choroid. Once there, it can invade the brain and the rest of the patient's body. 

Though there is a heritable form of retinoblastoma, this affects a minority of diagnosed children. Up to 75 percent of all cases of this rare eye cancer are non-heritable, and caused by a mutation of the RB1 gene.

Acting fast is the key to successful treatment — Avery's left eye was completely removed, though doctors said the boy had probably been blind since birth. He'll eventually be given a prosthetic eye and medical testing to assess his risk of other cancers is still ongoing. This terrifying story has a happy ending for now because his mom Julie spotted the signs early on. So what exactly are the symptoms of retinoblastoma, and what action can you take to keep an eye out for this rare cancer in your own children?

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