Brave Caleb Williamson still all smiles despite cancer battle which has left him nearly blind
A two-year-old boy from Londonderry is thriving and meeting his milestones despite battling a rare form of cancer that has robbed him of most of his vision.
Caleb Williamson was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, which causes tumours to grow behind the eyes, shortly after he was born.
Doting mum-of-six Jacqueline describes her youngest child as a "crazy, loving, cheeky monkey" who enjoys the "rough and tumble" of life, something Caleb has had more than his fair share of.
"With his happy-go-lucky personality and beaming smile you'd be forgiven for thinking he doesn't have a care in the world, but he has been through more in 24 months than most of us will ever face in a lifetime," she said.
Jacqueline, who is also visually impaired, knew there was a chance her son might also be affected but remained optimistic - her hopes were shattered just two days after Caleb was born when doctors discovered a problem with his eyesight.
Tests revealed the cause was cancer which has required chemotherapy, laser and cryotherapy treatment.
Regular check-ups are required to track the progress of the disease which could become life-threatening if it spreads - the family have met with specialists in Belfast, Dublin, Birmingham and Switzerland in their desperate effort to cure him.
"Sadly the treatments also have an impact on Caleb's sight and it's thought he has no vision in his left eye," his mum explained. "He has a visual acuity of just 6/76 in his right eye - that means an object that someone with perfect vision can see clearly from 76 metres away, Caleb would need to be six metres away."
But his life has been transformed by the Guide Dog's Children and Young People's team, whose rehabilitation specialist Sarah Cleary has been helping him reach ambitious milestones through a specially developed programme designed to teach skills to enable independence.
"She has taught him to track objects with his eyes, and introduced him to lots of different textures to build his confidence," Jacqueline said. "In January, he also got his very first long cane and he's learning to tap it on the floor to understand different surfaces and distances."
Sarah said she has loved getting to know Caleb and his family despite the challenges involved: "His vision is changing all the time and he can't verbalise what he can see to us, but he's right where he should be for his age and he does everything with such enthusiasm."
Mum Jacqueline is also delighted at his progress despite having reservations at the beginning. "I was so panicky at the start but now I let him batter on - I just want a normal life for him," she said.
She is urging other parents of visually impaired children not to be anxious. "I freaked out initially but you just have to get on and take whatever life throws at you - right now we're looking forward to our first family holiday together in the sun," she added. "We can't wait."