A California family devastated over their 6-year-old daughter’s brain tumor diagnosis was gutted to discover, just two weeks later, that their 4-year-old son was also suffering from the same illness.
Duncan and Nohea Avery had first thought Noah was copying his big sister Kalea when he started pointing to his head and complaining of headaches in June, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But a trip to the family pediatrician, who was aware of what was happening with Kalea, knew that his strange gait and balance issues were tell-tale signs of a brain tumor. On June 21, an MRI revealed that he too had brain cancer.
“We broke down in tears,” Duncan Avery, a high school surf coach, told the LA Times. “How could two kids in 14 days have the exact same tumor? How does that happen?”
Both siblings were diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancerous tumor which starts at the base of the skull and accounts for about 20 percent of all childhood brain tumors. Treatment typically requires surgery to remove the tumor followed by radiation and chemotherapy. If the cancer has not spread, there is about a 70-80 percent survival rate, according to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Each child had their tumor completely removed, but they likely face years of speech, physical and occupational therapies, as well as the harsh side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.
Dr. Ramin Javahery, medical director of pediatric neurosurgery at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital, performed both operations, and was shocked when presented with the siblings’ cases.
“It was just so not within my thought processes that you could have her sibling coming in,” Javahery told the news outlet. “I assumed it was someone else. …Then I was told by the oncologist about what was going on, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God.’”
The siblings’ diagnoses have stunned the medical community.
“None of us have probably seen that,” Dr. Sonia Partap, a professor at Stanford University who studies pediatric brain tumors, told the news outlet.
Doctors are testing for potential genetic mutations, or hereditary syndromes that may have made the siblings vulnerable to developing cancer.
“Maybe the reason we’re put on this Earth is so we can find the gene that causes medulloblastoma,” Duncan Avery told the news outlet.