Young friends battle rare cancer in Chesterfield

Posted at 8:47 AM, Nov 23, 2011

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - For Kieran Hathaway and Ber Van Der Meer, childhood has often been difficult. The two Robious elementary students have faced realities most adults never will.

"It's because we're kind of the same person in common, it's because we both go through the same things at the same time," said Ber Van Der Meer.

The two eight year old boys share an extremely rare form of pediatric cancer. It’s so rare in fact only about 600 kids are diagnosed yearly with it nationwide. These two live in the same Chesterfield community. They’re schoolmates and friends.

"Neuroblastoma, you have ten kids in a million," said Dr. Asadullah Khan of the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

Neuroblastoma has no known cause and no cure. It happens most to kids before the age of five. Typically by the time it shows up, the disease is at its highest stage. In those high risk cases it has a survival rate between 25 and 35 percent.

"Being stage four at the diagnosis makes it hard to treat it," said Kahn.

Kieran's diagnosis was at three years old and Ber's at four. Both had stage four Neuroblastoma. Since then they've gone through the same painful process of trying to beat it.

"Every bit of energy that you have goes in to fighting for their life," said Ber’s mother Amber Van Der Meer.

With loving parents the boys have traveled back and forth to Sloan Kettering in New York for treatment. The early part is excruciating for child.

"I feel a lot of pain in my body," said Kieran.

It comes from high and low dose chemotherapy and radiation, bone marrow and stem cell transplants, antibody and immunotherapy and multiple surgeries to remove tumors.

"You get a lot of pain in your head back and feet," said Ber.

That doesn’t take in to account the hours and hours of scans and the constant blood draws. Kieran’s parents say the process of killing the cancer almost once killed their son. He spent 69 days in intensive care. It was during three major holidays and his birthday.

"I can't even put in to words the kind of fear that's in your heart, waking up in the middle of the night terrified that your child is not going to live," said Kieran’s mother Carter Colan Hathaway.

For the boy’s parents, it's a parallel pain.

"I don't want to bury my son. I'm not going to bury my son, he's going to bury me," said Hathaway.

It’s a pain not as physical and symptoms not as visible. They struggle to hide their heartache. They have to for their sons.

"Just trying to keep our chin up even maybe when we don't want to...he definitely inspires us...sorry," said Van Der Meer.

Kieran and Ber seem to stay above the ups and downs. Because their disease is so rare, it gets a very small portion of cancer research funding. Only 3 percent of money raised for cancer nationwide goes toward children's research.

"You're talking about our future, you are talking about kids who are going to grow up to do amazing things because they've already been through the hardest time in their life," said Hathaway.

And wouldn't the hardest time be a lot easier if next to you all the while was someone who knew exactly how you felt. It's a kinship Ber and Kieran have a sign for. They use it when they pass each other in the hallway.

"We do peace signs, it's just our special greeting that we do," said Ber.

It’s a way for them to say glad you're here.