Parents

'Someone very special missing': Mom sends powerful message with photo

She has a sweet, warm smile and bright eyes as she shows off her school uniform in 2015, but the little girl is ominously absent from this year’s photo. It hits you in the gut — and that’s exactly the effect a British mom intended.

Courtesy Julie Apicella
Julie Apicella's daughter Emily died of cancer last year. The photo on the left was taken in January 2015. In September of that year, she was too ill to go to school.

“Obviously someone very special missing — my daughter Emily,” Julie Apicella wrote on her Facebook page earlier this month. “Imagine if your school photo this year is the LAST you will ever be able to take and will just be a memory to remember.”

Emily was 8 years old when she passed away late last year. She had been fighting cancer almost half her life.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, so her mom felt compelled to post the picture and urge others to “go gold” — add a gold ribbon to their social media profiles to spread the message. Some landmarks will "glow gold" this month for the same reason.

Related: Meet the 'momcologists': The fiercest warriors against childhood cancer

“Childhood cancer is not that rare as most believe and treatment is outdated greatly for children as funding is so low compared to adult cancers,” Apicella, 41, who lives in Wisbech, England, told TODAY.

In the U.S., less than 4 percent of all funding at the National Cancer Institute goes to pediatric research, even though childhood cancer is the No. 1 disease killer of children.

“Originally, it was a private post for family and friends and then someone asked if they could share it, so (I) set it to public and it suddenly went mad,” Apicella said.

The photo has been shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook.

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Emily was 5 years old when she was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a type of cancer that starts in the kidneys. It's the most common type of kidney cancer in children, according to the American Cancer Society.

The first symptoms were abdominal pain and constipation, her mom said. Once the cancer was discovered, doctors performed emergency surgery to remove the kidney and the tumor, which had ruptured. Emily underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy, a stem cell transplant and trial drugs, which did not work. The cancer came back.

Almost 16,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S., according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization. Unlike adult cancers, which are more likely to be discovered early, about 80 percent of childhood cancer cases are found only after the disease has spread to other parts of the body, it notes.

Symptoms may include persistent fever, nausea, or illness; headaches and unusual swelling. For the full list of symptoms, visit the American Childhood Cancer Organization.

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