Oct. 20, 2016 -- Fourteen-year-old Lexi Crawford was attacked by lower back pain so sharp that she couldn’t even sit up to eat. Her mother had to bring her food while she was lying flat on her back. Doctors in Waycross, GA, the small town where she lives, thought it was a kidney infection. But after months of antibiotics didn’t clear it up, a visiting doctor in the local ER suggested an X-ray.
What he saw on the scan was terrifying.
Black spots covered Lexi’s spine. “That’s cancer,” he told her mother, Cristy Rice. “I don’t know what kind it is, or where else it is, but that’s cancer.”
As Lexi first started feeling sick, in a house across town, 2-year-old Harris Lott began complaining that his stomach hurt. He suddenly lost the ability to urinate, and his parents, who are both doctors, rushed him to an emergency room. He was diagnosed with an infection. After treatment, he was fine for a while, but a few weeks later, the problem returned, and a urologist said it was time for more tests. They found a tumor the size of a grapefruit in his abdomen.
A few days later, doctors told the grandparents of 5-year-old Gage Walker, who lives 14 miles east in nearby Hoboken, GA, that the unrelenting stomach pain he’d had for weeks was probably constipation. For 2 months, doctors sent him home with laxatives. “He would just cry and cry and cry. I thought something was really wrong,’” says his grandmother, Ellen Walker. It, too, turned out to be cancer.
The same cancer.
All three kids were facing a common enemy: a soft-tissue cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma.
It’s rare. Only about 350 cases of rhabdomyosarcoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Even more puzzling, at about the same time, another child in the area, 5-year-old Raylee Metts, was diagnosed with a related but even rarer cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma. There are about 250 cases of Ewing’s in the U.S. annually.
All told, within 60 days in 2015, four children with rare sarcoma cancers were being treated with intensive chemotherapy, fighting for their lives, family members said.
In the southeast Georgia community where the children live in and around, some suspected it was more than just a coincidence. But in trying to prove that, worried residents didn’t know they would be facing obstacles nearly as formidable as the cancer itself.