Wendy Harless knew something was wrong with her two-year-old son. He kept complaining about his back hurting. Doctors told her that he was just fine, but they kept running tests on him. For three months, the process continued. She and her husband would take Holden in for a new test, they would bring him home and receive results that said nothing was wrong with him.

Finally, Wendy decided they needed a second opinion. She took him to Riley Hospital for Children, a Midwestern pediatrics hospital. He had an MRI test where they focused on his back, and found a spine tumor, about half the length of a pen. It was lodged in his spine, which had been causing his pain.

If they would have waited six months, or if doctors hadn’t been able to catch it, Holden would have been paralyzed. Instead, he faced a 10-hour surgery, which he came out of better than expected. He now just has a small scar on his back and memories to remind the Harless family of the ordeal.

Signs of childhood cancer:

Detecting childhood cancer isn’t easy, especially when the child is as young as two years old. Symptoms often mask themselves as other things, such as the unexplained weight loss that could possibly be related to a growth spurt, or the vision changes that could just be a part of growing up. Others are a little more obvious, such as swelling in the joints, constant infections, nausea and persistent fevers.

The best thing a parent can do is always listen to their child. On their own, even the most apparent of these symptoms can be overlooked. Physicians rely on parents and children to notice things happening over time. Taking note of the fact a child has had a headache for a week could be the difference between making the decision to go to the doctor’s office and simply assuming another headache is just coincidental. On the other hand, rushing them to the hospital every time their vision prescription changes is unhelpful. Part of the reason Holden’s story has a happy ending is that Wendy relied on her intuition.

When to get a second opinion:

Wendy’s intuition led her to believe something was wrong with Holden. When doctors told her otherwise, she persisted. When it comes to the medical world, parents act as advocates for their children. They’re the ones who decide if the child goes to the doctor, and they’re the ones who decide if they want to keep going back after the first doctor says nothing is wrong.

The biggest mistake you can make is to not tell your child’s primary physician that you’re getting a second opinion since they’ve been seeing your child for years and know his or her medical history.

When you decide it’s time to keep searching for answers, tell your physician. They should be able to give you a referral and are trained to stay professional. Never be afraid to question a doctor’s findings for your own peace of mind about your child’s health.