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Mom groups often get a bad name for being catty, judgy, or full of multi-level marketing schemes—and to be honest, a few of them can be like that.

Now, if you’ve ever been in a mom group, you have probably seen the pictures from a mom asking what a mysterious rash on her toddler is, or whether or not her child’s symptoms warrant a doctor’s visit. Being a mother in the 21st century can make it easy to overreact every time our kids sniffle or cough, and you will often find posts from well-meaning parents, but for one of my friends, AnaLady Caderón, her online mom group helped save her child’s life.

Last June, AnaLady had been noticing articles popping up in her Facebook feed that mentioned that a mother found out about her son’s cancer by taking a picture. She did what most of us did and ignored the article and continued on scrolling through her feed as usual until one day she clicked on it. At that point, she did not notice anything odd about her son’s pictures and put it out of her mind.

A week later, things changed. A picture of her sweet, youngest son, Milan had the glow that the article spoke about. Now, instead of immediately jumping to conclusions and rushing to the emergency room like, this writer might have done. AnaLady turned to her trusted group of mom friends online and posted the picture of her son asking if it was normal, since she only saw the white spot at certain angles and lights. Immediately, dozens of ladies commented sharing articles they had seen online, experiences that they had with bringing their children to the doctor for a similar picture, and even a mother whose child did end up getting diagnosed from a picture.

Her instinct had told her that something was wrong, but as moms, we always worry that we may be overprotective and playing Dr. Google. When the group consensus was to call the pediatrician first thing in the morning and not wait for his yearly check-up, it helped AnaLady feel like she wasn’t overreacting. She had her mom friends behind her.

So, the next day she took her son to the doctor and was handed news no mother would ever want to hear. Milan was diagnosed with retinoblastoma of his left eye at 20-months old.

Retinoblastoma is a rare eye cancer that affects about 300 children per year. It targets the nerve cells in the retina that allow us to see. It can happen at any age, but most cases happen to children under two years of age. Common signs of this type of cancer are crossed eyes, a large pupil, cloudy iris, poor vision, and eyes that do not line up normally. In bright light, the pupil can look yellow or silvery, which is why Milan’s left eye would glow in pictures.

There are two types, with the most common being heritable retinoblastoma, which a child typically. inherits from a parent and will usually develop before one year old.

Milan had sporadic retinoblastoma. Doctors are still not sure why it happens, and thanks to his mama acting so fast at the urging of her mama group, they were able to save his eye. Thankfully, most children with this disease will be cured, but not all are as lucky as Milan. If his mother had not taken him in when she did the doctors might not have been able to save his eye.

When the doctors said Milan would need to stay still for up to six hours after each chemotherapy treatment, his mom decided to start breastfeeding him again since they had only stopped a few days before his diagnosis. After trying to get Milan to re-latch for a full day, he finally latched back on and she was able to breastfeed him for several more months during his treatment to help keep him nourished, as well as comforted.

In the midst of this turmoil, her online friends decided they needed to help. In fact, Brittany Eiben, the creator of the group all were part of, was the first to organize and put together a donation fund. Dozens of women came together to donate any money that they could to help her family and in just a few short days, these lovely women raised over $1,500 and handpicked a bracelet that was engraved with the words “I Will Not Be Shaken”.

Over the following year, AnaLady came to the group through the good times and the bad. She says, “These girls were with us since the minute I posted the picture,” and they were. Whenever she felt down, she would go to the group for continued support, prayers, and good vibes.

Now that Milan is stable and has finished his treatment and will continue to go in for periodic checks, she wants to bring awareness to his cancer. She wants other moms to know that it’s OK to post a question in a mom group if they are unsure.

Not everyone has friends and family close by, and it is important for mothers to have support and be able to ask questions like she did. If she hadn’t trusted her gut, it may have been too late to save Milan’s eye because other than an odd glow in his eye once in awhile, he was a completely normal, healthy boy.

My friend wants everyone to know that her little boy is her hero. He stayed strong through his treatment, even during his worst days, and I would like to say that he got it from his mama. I hope their story teaches us all how to support each other in times of need.

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Melissa Guida-Richards

Melissa Guida-Richards is a stay at home mom to two beautiful boys and advocates for mental health and chronic pain awareness on her blog Spoonie-mama.com and on Facebook. She writes for The Mighty, Scary Mommy and Motherly.   

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