Feb. 11, 2020 — The Rush brothers — 5-year-old Tristen, 4-year-old Caison, and 7-month-old Carter — are like most siblings — playing and laughing together one minute and fighting the next.
But they have another bond that most brothers don’t: All three boys have bilateral retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer. It begins in the back part of the eye, in an area called the retina.
Their mother, Angie Rush, 38, was also born with the disease — she was the first one in her family to have it. But doctors didn’t diagnose her until she was 6 weeks old. By that time, the tumors had grown so much that doctors had to remove her left eye.
The disease often has a genetic link, so Rush knew there was a chance she might pass it to her children, but she never thought all three of them would get it.
Because of their mother’s history with retinoblastoma, all three boys were screened for the disease at birth. Tristen started chemotherapy when he was just 3 weeks old. Angie and her husband, Aaron, were a little fearful at first.
“We did not know what would happen next — how would he handle treatments being so young, what would this mean for his future,” she says.
Caison started chemotherapy when he was just 1 week old. Even though Carter wasn’t diagnosed until he was 6 months old, he got regular screenings, which eventually showed the cancer.
Retinoblastoma usually affects infants and young children, though adults can get it, too. One of the most common early symptoms is a white color in the center of the eye — the pupil — when a light shines on it, like when someone takes a flash photograph. Other signs include eyes that seem to look in different directions, eye redness, and eye swelling.
Chemotherapy is one of the main treatments for retinoblastoma, along with surgery, radiation, cryotherapy, and laser therapy. Tristen and Caison each had 6 rounds of chemotherapy and laser treatment, and are doing well. Baby Carter just had his first treatment.
Thomas Olson, MD, director of the Solid Tumor Program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, says there’s a chance the cancer might come back or another type of cancer could form, so the boys will get regular screenings as they grow.
The family has moved in with Angie’s parents to cut expenses and for help with child care. Angie says she and Aaron work well together on their sons’ medical care, balancing doctor appointments and treatments with the normal parts of family life. A day in the life of the Rush household is like most others with young children: busy. Angie says Tristen and Caison are both early birds, ready to go as soon as they wake up.
“I’ve heard many times that these younger years with children go by so fast, and I try hard to remember that one day I will miss this busy stage in life,” Angie says. “I keep a written record of important events in the boys’ life both for my own memory and for theirs in the future.”