When five-year-old Arianna said her back was hurting, her parents initially put it down to a new bed they’d just bought her.
Something, however, didn’t seem right. Little did they know that just months later their world would be flipped upside down.
She was recently diagnosed with high risk neuroblastoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that mostly affects babies and young children under five.
Around 100 children are diagnosed with it each year in the UK, according to the NHS.
Arianna Solieri, who lives in a village just outside Ware with her mum Abigail, 33, her dad Chris, 34, and little sisters Mya, two, and one-year-old Zara, has now bravely begun treatment at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital.
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She’s been nicknamed Wonder Woman after wandering around the ward dressed as superheroes with a smile on her face and showing steely determination.
Her attitude and kindness has blown her mum away, with Abigail currently pregnant with another girl, due on Arianna’s sixth birthday in March.
Abigail now wants to help raise awareness of childhood cancer having embarked upon a journey no parent would ever wish to undertake.
‘Arianna’s diagnosis was utterly heartbreaking’
Things didn’t quite seem right back in July when Arianna said she was getting back pain – something innocuous and, nine times out of 10, nothing major.
“I took her to an osteopath,” said Abigail, “because we bought her a new bed and I just assumed it was her bed.”
She went to an osteopath a couple of times between July and September and, on both occasions, the pain seemed to go away. It appeared to everyone that is was just a muscular injury sitting beneath the shoulder blades.
It wasn’t until Thursday, November 11 that Arianna told her mum that the pain had moved to her lower back.
The following day, she’d gone to a friend’s house after school, playing and having fun like any other five-year-old would.
“Then Saturday comes and she woke up in agonising pain,” Abigail said.
“It was my niece’s birthday, so we went to the birthday party in the morning and Arianna didn’t play on the bouncy castle, she didn’t play with any of her cousins, and that’s really unlike her.”
Arianna was then taken to a minor injuries unit where it was discovered she had a heightened temperature and a possible kidney infection.
Abigail’s maternal instinct kicked in and she felt something didn’t add up so, after many trips to A&E and her GP – including three times in one day – by November 19 doctors had discovered a tumour on her kidney.
She was officially diagnosed with neuroblastoma on November 26.
“I don’t really know how to put it into words,” Abigail said. “I’m also pregnant so it’s been devastating.
“I think that Friday where they found the tumour, I know that it was officially the worst day of my life.
“They knew it was a cancerous tumour, it wasn’t like they were unsure or anything like that.
“That, to me, was just utterly heartbreaking.”
Arianna’s spirit and personality has been a lift during one of the darkest times, and Abigail says she’s been overwhelmed by how her eldest daughter has handled things.
“I know everyone says this about their kids, but even her school teacher said if there’s one word to describe Arianna, that word would be kind,” she added.
“That really stood out to me, and even her ballet teacher said, ‘God, she’s so kind’. She told me how a little kid accidentally got whacked in the face during dancing and Arianna was the only one who went over and asked if she was okay.
“That’s the person who Arianna is. She’s only five. It’s devastating that she’s got to go through this and it’s totally unexpected.
“She’s still really smiley and she just loves life.”
‘Arianna is my superhero’
Arianna began her treatment on November 27, and her parents are getting to grips with what she’ll face over her initial 80-day plan.
She’s already had a blood transfusion, been placed under general anaesthetic three times and undergone MRI scans.
Nurses have also performed an MIBG which involves an isotope dye. This is absorbed by cancerous cells at a faster speed than healthy cells to identify the extent of the disease and, ultimately, the stage of Arianna’s illness.
Between them, Abigail and Chris have been with Arianna in hospital throughout her treatment and it’s been difficult for them to juggle everything, especially with having two little ones at home.
“Mya [who turns three next week] keeps saying, ‘When is Arianna coming home?’ and every time they FaceTime they have a proper little chat, it’s the cutest thing ever,” Abigail added.
“They always ask each other how they’re feeling. Then she says, ‘Is you back better?’ and it’s just really sweet.”
Arianna herself is facing the current situation head-on and appears to be in good spirits.
While her parents are under no illusion that there’s a long road ahead, they’re immensely proud with how Arianna is dealing with it.
“She’s very aware of everything, we’ve told her everything we can tell her, and what we think is appropriate to tell her,” she added.
“She’s aware that she’s in a fight and she needs to fight this disease off, and that there are things she needs to do to fight it.
“We’ve been really trying to empower her on that journey and her superhero journey.
“How she is taking it is incredible and genuinely I would never have thought that she would take to something like this so easily and how she is, and obviously I know it’s going to be a bumpy road.
“I know that it’s not always going to look like this, but right now the things that she’s had to go through she’s taken so well and it’s pretty unbelievable.
“She literally is like my superhero and I know that sounds silly, but genuinely my admiration for her is just ridiculous, how she’s been is out of this world.”
‘Your life is turned upside down’
Jenna Pentney, Arianna’s auntie, set up a GoFundMe page on November 23 to help ease the financial pressure on her parents.
Costs for hotel stays, food and travel are soon adding up, and it’s hoped the money raised will ensure that they can focus all of their strength and support on Arianna.
It’s received over £20,000 already with friends, family and complete strangers dipping into their pockets to help.
Abigail says she’s been blown over by the support they’ve received.
“It’s incredible,” she added, “and I feel shocked every time I look at that page. It’s really incredible and we would never have guessed that we would be at this amount this quickly.
“It makes it that much easier and we even had a nurse actually come in and bring some superhero gifts in for Arianna, and I have no idea who sent it.”
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Abigail is now keen to help raise awareness of cancer among children having gone through such pain and uncertainty already.
She also urges anyone to speak to their GPs if they feel something isn’t right and to persist until they get to the bottom of the problem.
“We knew none of the struggles that the parents have to face and your life is literally turned upside down,” she added.
“In a moment, a conversation, someone is essentially saying to you that we’ve found a tumour and it’s cancerous.
“Our lives have been turned around with that, so raising awareness of what families have to face when it’s completely unexpected, like it was, and if your child is complaining about anything like back pain then really look into it and get it checked out.”
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