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Rare Cancer May Be Back in Young Richland Boy

June 21, 2008

By Laura Kate Zaichkin, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

Jun. 21–For Richland’s Zaugg family, the unthinkable has happened: 6-year-old Aidan Zaugg’s cancer might be back.

Recent MRI results have doctors believing Aidan’s rare form of brainstem cancer has returned.

Aidan was diagnosed more than two years ago with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a disease that affects about 200 U.S. children annually. Fewer than 8 percent of those diagnosed live more than a year.

But Tanya and Mike Zaugg’s child is not just another statistic, they say. From the beginning there were no ifs — Aidan would survive. He has lived and remained symptom free.

Until a few weeks ago.

Near the end of May, Aidan began showing symptoms of tumor progression, such as seeing double, slurring, and having trouble swallowing and with his balance.

Worried, his family scheduled an MRI at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

“We were all just really devastated,” said Chet Hammack, Aidan’s grandfather. “(Children’s Hospital doctors) are confident that it’s progression.”

Seeking second, third and fourth opinions, the family sent the MRI to hospitals around the country. All but two doctors at a hospital the Zauggs will not name believe the cancer that has been dormant is back. Those who think the cancer is progressing have given him between weeks and a year to live.

But the two doctors with a differing opinion think the change is because the tumor is dying, which also would cause symptoms, Hammack said.

“There is a sliver of hope now for us,” he said.

The doctors want PET scan results to further investigate. The Zauggs were hoping to have one performed Friday in Seattle, Hammack said.

If it reveals the cancer is progressing, Aidan will begin a trial medication at Envita Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., which might cost up to $75,000 and will not be covered by insurance, Hammack said.

“We don’t know (if) we’re going to have to head down that path,” he said. “Actively doing nothing, that’s the most difficult thing for us.”

The Tri-City community, which jumped to the Zauggs’ aid two years ago, isn’t standing by. A fundraiser car wash and silent auction for Aidan is from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at The Pub in Kennewick.

“There are some treatments out there that are really expensive and we wanted to give him a chance,” said April Mowery, The Pub’s manager and Aidan’s second cousin. “Never give up hope because there’s always miracles.”

Aidan would not have made it this far without the help of the community, Hammack said. He said if further tests reveal cancer, the family will need as much support as possible.

But even if it is progression, there still is hope, Hammack said. Doctors predicted Aidan would die within a year when he was diagnosed in April 2006 and he’s still living.

“There’s no reason we can’t repeat that,” Hammack said. “We’re keeping a positive outlook. That’s just the nature of our family.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

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