‘My eye looked like it was about to fall out of my head – but doctors missed my cancer 9 times’

By Staff 14 Min Read

A sports teaching assistant who thought his swollen eye might “fall out of his head” had a rare cancerous tumour on his optic nerve.

But Farid Oladapo’s cancer was missed despite visiting different hospitals multiple times since he noticed bruising on his left eye. His condition worsened and Farid was eventually told, in June 2022, he had embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of soft tissue cancer.

The diagnosis came during Farid’s final year studying International Politics at Brunel University, near Uxbridge, west London. He experienced complications during his chemotherapy and radiotherapy in August 2022 and he felt like he was “at death’s door”.

Despite these setbacks, Farid was able to complete his degree, graduating in the summer last year and now that he has reached remission, he is looking ahead to the future and has dreams of setting up his own football agency one day. The 24-year-old man has decided to share his story for Teenage and Young Adult Cancer Awareness Month in April, to raise awareness of embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma and to encourage others to “appreciate life more”.

“I thought to myself, everyone’s telling me that it’s going to go away, so maybe I’m overreacting and I’m just going to leave it but my eye started to get really bad. My eye was protruding from my head I’m assuming that my eye is coming out of my face and I thought, if it keeps on coming out, it might fall out of my head. Every time I show people (the pictures), they can’t believe people were sending me home with my eye like that,” Farid, from Croydon, south London, said.

Speaking about the impact of his diagnosis, he added: “My perspective on life has definitely changed. So when people complain about certain things, I think, when I was in hospital, there were three-year-olds walking around with tubes in their noses that have leukaemia and they’re not going to see the age that you are.

“They are literally just playing with their toys and they’re smiling and they’re happy, and you’re complaining about some menial, first world problem? You won’t understand unless you go through it, and I don’t want people to go through it, but I feel like I definitely appreciate life more.”

Farid first spotted a small bruise on his right eye in May 2022 but assumed it would “go down” over time. He then noticed swelling around the eye, leading him to book a GP appointment, but after completing vision tests, he said doctors “sent him on (his) way”. Although Farid’s vision was unaffected, the swelling progressively worsened and he said he visited the A&E department at Croydon University Hospital not once, but several times.

“Every time I went to A&E, they did the same visual test repeatedly, and then afterwards they would just send me home,” Farid said. A spokesperson for Croydon Health Services NHS Trust has since said “an urgent referral was made to Moorfields Eye Hospital” during his first attendance at the emergency department.

Farid decided to visit the A&E department at St George’s on June 3 2022 for a second opinion, and St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has said he was referred for ongoing care. Still in search of answers, however, Farid said his parents then paid £300 for a private medical consultation for him, where the same visual tests were completed but this time, the consultant was “not sure” what was wrong.

Farid continued to monitor his eye, but over the following days the swelling worsened and he started to experience double vision and noticed his eye was “pointing slightly towards the right”. He said he phoned the GP and was told by a doctor it was possible he had “something pressing on his brain” but when he visited Croydon University Hospital again, he said staff completed the same visual test.

“In total, before I actually got anywhere with this, I think I went to hospital nine times before anybody told me (the diagnosis),” he said. “My eye was coming out of my face, it went yellow it was so horrible. The following day, or two days later, I could no longer close my eye as well, I couldn’t sleep, so I started getting agitated. There was pus all over my eye, there was liquid on my face, the eye was going yellow, and it was growing a yellow rubbery substance on top of it, like it was infected.”

Farid then visited Moorfields at St George’s, where he said his eye was stitched shut on June 8 in order to prevent further infection. After having a scan, Farid was then told by doctors that a mass was causing his eye to protrude and he said a biopsy during surgery on June 10 later revealed it was a cancerous tumour, specifically embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma.

“Whenever you hear cancer, you just assume that people die that’s just what you know. My granddad passed away, my friend’s dad passed away, so that’s all I’ve known I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone who’s had cancer and lived to tell the tale,” Farid said.

Farid started chemotherapy in June 2022, undergoing eight rounds at The Royal Marsden, and had radiotherapy in October for six weeks at University College London Hospital, followed by three more rounds of chemotherapy in January 2023. He experienced side effects of extreme fatigue and pain which still affect him now as well as nausea, vomiting, and weight loss, and he said his hair started “falling out in the shower”.

Farid, who is 6ft 5in tall, suffered complications during treatment in August 2022, leading him to spend two weeks in intensive care where he was “in and out of consciousness”, and his weight dropped from 85kg (13st 4lbs) to 60kg (9st 4lbs).

“I literally just looked like a bag of bones, I looked like a skeleton,” the graduate said. Farid was writing his dissertation while undergoing treatment, but with the help of his Young Lives vs Cancer social worker and his parents, and the support of his close friends, he was able to “get through” it.

While he said he has been left with slight blurred vision in his right eye, he has reached remission and will continue to have check-ups over the next 10 years. He feels “proud” that he was able to complete his degree and he has since achieved his FA Level 1 in Coaching Football, and he will soon start his new role as a business and commercial banking analyst at Lloyds Banking Group.

As part of Teenage and Young Adult Cancer Awareness Month in April, Farid wants to share his story to raise awareness of his symptoms and to encourage others to “trust your gut instinct” when it comes to your health.

“The biggest word I’d use about my cancer journey is unpredictable. You find out what kind of person you are when you’re in difficult situations… and once you go through it, you are a stronger person,” Farid said.

“You have to remain positive, you have to stay strong not just for yourself but for the people around you and you need to roll with the punches as well. Things will happen in your journey that you don’t expect, but you just need to go with it.”

Speaking about his advice to others, he added: “If you think something is wrong, keep going to the hospital. Don’t wait till it’s too late, and trust your gut instinct… and even in bad circumstances, there are still things you can take and enjoy and be happy about, so appreciate the little things.”

A spokesperson for Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said: “We are sorry to hear that Mr Oladapo was unhappy with the care he received. During his first attendance at our Emergency Department on 19 May 2022, an urgent referral was made to Moorfields Eye Hospital, a specialist in eye care.”

A spokesperson for Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “Mr Oladapo’s case was complex. Following a visit to A&E, he was referred to us for further checks where he was placed on an urgent cancer care pathway. The rare form of cancer that he was diagnosed with required a number of specialist tests to determine the most appropriate treatment option for him, however he was diagnosed and cared for in accordance with best practice national referral to treatment guidelines and started treatment for his cancer within 62 days of his initial referral.

“We would encourage Mr Oladapo to contact our patient advice and liaison service (Pals) if he has any concerns or complaints about his care. Our Pals service can be contacted on 020 7566 2324, by emailing [email protected], or by visiting the office at our City Road hospital.”

Throughout his treatment, Farid was supported by Young Lives vs Cancer, a charity which is there for every young person with cancer to make sure they get the right care and support at the right time. For more information, visit the charity’s website here.

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