Lightning Strikes Twice: Siblings Experience Same Rare Brain Cancer Together

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Duncan Avery is father to two children, Kalea, and Noah. At age six, doctors discovered Kalea had a tumor in her brain. They would successfully remove it via surgical methods. About a week passed after Kalea’s surgery. Suddenly Noah, Kalea’s four-year-old younger brother, began to express a pain in his head. He not only exhibited similar symptoms, but indicated the same region of pain as his sister. What Duncan first thought of as simple imitation became the second brain cancer diagnosis the family faced. Keep reading to learn more, or follow the original story here.

Brain Cancer in Children

Brain cancers occur as an abrupt, uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. These cells multiply and gather together in larger groups to form tumors. In most cases, brain cancers occur differently in children than they would in adults. Together, brain and spinal cord tumors account for the second most common form of cancer in children.

Brain tumors can come in many shapes and sizes. Some of the major characteristics of them include primary tumors (those which begin in the brain), secondary (or metastatic – tumors that began elsewhere and spread to the brain), malignant (those which spread aggressively), and benign (tumors which grow slowly and often do not spread).

Symptoms are highly variable depending on the specific type and location of tumor. Common symptoms may include, headaches, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, balance problems, and seizures.

Click here to learn more about brain cancer in children.

Kalea’s Cancer

Kalea began showing symptoms towards the end of May. Her parents recall that it was a Sunday the first time she vomited. Nothing else, however, seemed amiss. They assumed she merely had an upset stomach.

During the weekend, Kalea easily enjoyed time with her family at a barbecue. She played with her cousins, and practiced skateboarding with her father. It wasn’t until Kalea began to complain of head pain that her mother took her to see a doctor.

Kalea’s mother, Nohea, took her daughter to the emergency room. Doctors discovered something more than a headache or upset stomach. They found an unusual tumor towards the back of her brain. The cause was uncertain, but they identified it as an aggressive medulloblastoma.

On June 11, Kalea entered surgery for her brain cancer. The process of removing the tumor lasted four hours.

Noah’s Cancer

While Kalea stayed in the hospital, the Avery family began to notice Noah was acting strangely. He slept more. He pointed to his head, right between the eyebrows like his sister had. The way he walked had changed. Duncan thought maybe his son was depressed about what Kalea was going through – he certainly felt that way about it.

Still, after the experience with Kalea, taking a risk didn’t seem appropriate. Duncan took Noah to a pediatrician. Tests revealed the same type of medulloblastoma that Kalea had.

Across all the available literature, only about ten cases of medulloblastoma among siblings have ever been recorded. Doctors suspect that there is some kind of genetic mutation which makes the family more susceptible to this form of brain cancer. More tests will need to be done to find out.

Avery Family Future

The same doctor that performed Kalea’s operation performed Noah’s. In Both cases, he was able to successfully remove the entirety of the tumor. In Neither case did the cancer appear to have spread. Chances of surviving the next five years are estimated at about 80% for both children. It is likely that if they can get past the five-year mark that their cancers will never return.

There are, however, other risks. In order to successfully treat the brain cancer, it is necessary for both children to undergo courses of radiation and chemotherapy. It is not entirely known what consequences this could have, but it is likely to have some effect on the developing brains. It is likely that both children will need some form of occupational, speech, or physical therapy as a result.

Duncan plans to move both children to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles soon. They’ve always been close, and love to be together, he says. Duncan also admits that there is still “a long road ahead” for him, his children, and his family.


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