She didn't have a chance: three-year-old misdiagnosed with constipation dies of cancer

Aoife with her beloved Shetland Pony, "Bubbles'.
Aoife with her beloved Shetland Pony, "Bubbles'. Photo: Instagram/Aoife'sBubbles

When three-year-old Aoife Flanagan-Gibbs complained of tummy pain in June, her mum Eilish Flanagan took her to the doctor - eleven times. Numerous medical professionals including her own GP, and emergency doctors turned her away, saying Aoife had "common childhood constipation."

Just three weeks later, Ms Flanagan's little girl died in her arms after being diagnosed with germ cell cancer.

Two months on, the heartbroken UK mum still doesn't understand how it happened. 

"I took Aoife to see the GP or a consultant doctor 11 times in three weeks," Ms Flanagan told Essex Live. "She'd been in and out of hospital with different infections and problems but they kept telling us she had common child constipation."

But Ms Flanagan knew something else was wrong with her Queen Elsa loving daughter.


A post shared by Aoife (@aoifesbubbles) on

"She had pains in other areas of her body," she says, "but the doctors never examined her. She had a tumour on her bottom but they failed to investigate it."

Prior to Aoife's diagnosis, Ms Flanagan says she was told that she wasn't feeding her daughter properly and that her little girl simply needed more exercise.

In fact, Aoife had a tumour in her liver which was blocking her bowel.


"We we were shown an x-ray and you could see the diseases and tumours," she says. "We were aware it was in her liver and we knew we were in a bad situation."

But while germ cell cancer is generally reactive to chemotherapy if caught early, Ms Flanagan says it was "too late".

"They didn't give us a fair chance." 

On July 7, Aoife died suddenly.

"It was completely unexpected, she had a huge cardiac arrest," Ms Flanagan says. "I held her because I knew something was wrong with her. She died in my arms.

"As soon as she passed away and I was out of the hospital I knew she couldn't end there. Her life on this planet, that couldn't just be it. We needed to do something for the other children."

After her daughter's death, the grieving mum discovered that there were no charities for germ cell cancer, something she wanted to change.

"Aoife's Bubble's" named after her daughter's beloved Shetland Pony, was born.

In a Facebook post about Aoife's legacy, Ms Flanagan writes: "I miss the love of my life more than I can put into words. There is nothing I can put here that covers the pain we feel as a family. This awful illness has destroyed me, my family and ripped my little girl away."

The mum says the aim of the charity is to bring awareness and education not only to the medical profession but to other families like theirs.

"Aoife's illness was sadly misdiagnosed several times, which drives me to make huge changes."

And she'll keep fighting.

"My love for you will never ever end, our bond is unbreakable and stronger than anything else on this planet," she says. "I miss you with every second of everyday, there is nothing in my mind ever but you. Tomorrow i will wake up and continue to fight for everything you deserve, I love you for ever and infinity and more and more and more."

According to cancer Australia, germ cell tumours occur when abnormal germ cells grow in an uncontrolled way. "A germ cell is the type of cell that develops into eggs (in the ovaries) or sperm (in the testicles)," they say. "Germ cell tumours can develop before or after birth, and can occur in the ovaries or testicles, or in other parts of the body. This is because sometimes, when babies are developing in the womb, germ cells travel to other parts of the body."

Tumours can be benign and malignant. And while symptoms vary depending on where the tumour is, usually a lump appears or can be felt.

You can make a donation to Aoife's Bubbles on her Go Fund Me here.