ISLA-ROSE Thomas has a smile that lights up a room.

However this time last year that smile was hidden behind a one-in-a-million cancer diagnosis which disfigured her face.

Christmas was a difficult time for the family as the youngster took on the toughest battle of her young life.

However this year the festive celebrations are very different and Isla-Rose is excitedly looking forward to opening her presents and celebrating the big day on Monday with her family.

Isla-Rose, six, from Eastbourne, was forced to take a year off school to battle the cancer, which left her in pain and in hospital for eight months.

Sometimes she was so poorly, she couldn’t even bear to be cuddled.

Now, thanks to treatment, she is well again and her beaming smile is back.

She has amazed family, friends and teachers by picking up where she left off and returning to her school.

The youngster has now been presented with a Cancer Research UK Kids and Teens Star award, presented in partnership with TK Maxx.

The award celebrates the bravery shown by children affected by cancer.

Isla-Rose, a Year 2 pupil at Lower Willingdon Primary School, was diagnosed with cancer in October last year.

Her parents, Samantha, 35, and Will, 37, had been concerned after noticing a lump on the side of her neck.

It was initially about the size of a kidney bean but grew in just a few weeks to the size of a golf ball.

That and other symptoms – including a swollen face, headaches, general tiredness, irritability and a lack of appetite – prompted them to take Isla-Rose to her GP on many occasions.

When several courses of antibiotics for suspected sinus infections didn’t help, the youngster was eventually referred to a paediatrician who failed to make a diagnosis after carrying out a variety of tests.

Following weeks of to-ing and fro-ing between her GP and hospital, Samantha followed a gut feeling that something was very wrong and took Isla-Rose to A&E.

Within hours Isla-Rose had a CT scan and tests resulted in her being diagnosed with Large Diffuse B Cell Burkitt’s Lymphoma.

This affects only about ten children a year.

As well as being unusual in girls and for her age group, the cancer had also developed behind Isla-Rose’s eye, which again is very rare.

The youngster started treatment almost immediately at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital and also attended the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton.

She needed very intensive chemotherapy because the tumour was aggressive and fast growing.

Doctors also found the cancer had spread to the fluid in Isla-Rose’s spine and she required weekly injections under general anaesthetic.

Samantha said: “If the tumour had been caught earlier she would not have had to go through that.

“I wish doctors had more knowledge and understanding of childhood cancers as early detection is the key to curing and treating more cancers.

“Fortunately Large Diffuse B Cell Lymphoma responds well to chemotherapy and the treatment went to plan and there is now no sign of the tumour.”

Isla-Rose, who finished the gruelling treatment in April this year, is now in remission and has six-weekly check-ups.

The most recent at the end of October was clear.

But for eight months she was very rarely able to leave hospital and was cut off from her friends.

Her mother covered school work in hospital when Isla-Rose felt well enough between chemotherapy sessions.

Isla-Rose’s parents, who also have two sons Finley, ten, and Dillon, four, are very proud of the way Isla-Rose coped.

Samantha said: “Although she often felt too poorly, she worked hard when she could and she was able to pick up where she left off when she returned to school.

“She is back in her original class despite losing a year off. Isla-Rose took everything in her stride and was determined to beat her cancer.

“After we were given the news she was in remission, although scared, she ventured back into the big world in which she had been hidden from for months and confidently started to rebuild her life back to how it was before.

“She has reconnected with friends and bravely faced having to explain why she hadn’t been at school and why she had no hair and looked different.”

Although Isla-Rose still suffers some side-effects from her treatment, she is getting used to eating again.

Samantha said: “She is still re-adjusting to life after cancer but she looks as healthy as she has done all of her life.

“Her hair is coming back.

“Children with cancer have to go through some terribly gruelling treatments. Isla-Rose was no exception.

“Sometimes she was so poorly she couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t bear to be touched.

“The cancer she had is very rare and although it was very treatable, it was aggressive and needed months of intensive treatment to stop it.

“But she got through it. I don’t know anyone more amazing.

“She always had a smile for the people caring for her and she showed compassion for other children having treatment even though she herself felt so poorly.

“She has been such an inspiration to us as a family and to all her friends and teachers.”