California doctors are trying to solve a medical mystery involving two siblings who were diagnosed with the same rare brain cancer within two weeks of each other.
Kalea, 6, and her brother, Noah, 4, both had tumors in their heads that had to be surgically removed.
It was Kalea who first experienced splitting headaches and vomiting. Just after Memorial Day weekend, parents Duncan and Nohea Avery, took the little girl to a neurologist, who recommended a MRI. The scan showed a mass at the stem of her brain measuring 3.5 centimeters.
On June 11, she endured four hours of surgery to have it excised. "You know, you have a little girl who loved to skateboard and play soccer and hang out with her friends," said her father. Then "she's gonna have brain surgery, has brain cancer. You're like, the whole world just stops."
In the Avery family's case, the world stopped twice.
Less than a week after Kalea's operation, Noah began complaining of headaches in the spot between his eyebrows, the same site of his sister's pain.
His parents thought he was imitating Kalea's symptoms.
"When he said, you know, 'My head hurts between my eyes,' he was pointing right to where his sister was. We're like, 'OK, he's mimicking his sister, he misses his sister. It's just him dealing with all of these emotions.'"
But that was not at all true.
Noah had a tumor as well, the result of medulloblastoma, an aggressive cancer in the back of the brain that afflicts 200 to 500 children each year in the U.S.
"I didn't even respond," mom Nohea said of learning her son, too, was sick. "I kind of went numb. We're all of a sudden hit with this and we're starting all over again with our second child. I was just like, 'How are we going to get through this?'''
At Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Dr. Alan Wayne is trying to find a genetic link between the siblings' cancer disagnoses.
"It's extremely rare to have two cancers in a family which in and of itself raises the possibility of this being an inherited genetic predisposition," he said.
Both children will undergo chemotherapy, and possibly additional therapy after that.
"Most of the time," Wayne said, "the children can be cured."
A GoFundMe account has been established to help the family with medical costs.