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11 people diagnosed with rare brain cancer live within miles of each other

A mother whose son survived brain cancer says eleven cases of the rare tumors have popped up mostly in three neighboring Mt. Pleasant subdivisions — Park West, Dunes West and Rivertowne.

*UPDATE, June 28: The S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control said on Wednesday its data does not support there being a cancer cluster in the Mount Pleasant neighborhoods mentioned in this story. DHEC officials released the following statement on the matter:

DHEC staff’s sympathies are with these individuals and their families who are fighting to overcome this terrible disease. The results of the Community Cancer Assessments (CCA) conducted for children ages (0-19) and the population at large for the Mt. Pleasant area, using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, do not indicate a cancer cluster.

DHEC did not release the data it uses to source the findings mentioned above. For more on the latest developments in this story, click HERE.
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Cases of rare brain cancer diagnoses among Mount Pleasant, South Carolina children have local mothers whose sons battled the illness now wondering if they all may be connected, and what may be the cause.

Mount Pleasant’s Park West neighborhood is known for its pretty lawns and peacefulness, but driving past the gate only brings back bittersweet memories for Brandy Richardson.

“He was terminal upon diagnosis,” she said, recalling the day her eight-year-old son Ethan was diagnosed with Diffuse Instrinsic Pontine Glioma.

“They give you radiation and tell you to go home and enjoy your kid til he's gone,” Richardson said.


It wasn’t just the single diagnosis of an incredibly rare pediatric brain tumor that stunned her.

“On the exact same day, another little boy named Sam was diagnosed with DIPG,” Richardson said. “It was kind of strange to me. Two kids. Same town. Same hospital. Same day.”

Ethan died within a few months of his July 2013 diagnosis. Meanwhile, in a subdivision just a few miles away, another mother’s nightmare was just about to begin.

“We felt compelled to show up and support Ethan not knowing while we were standing there that our son had a tumor in the exact same spot,” said Marie Price, thinking back on Ethan’s high-profile diagnosis and her family’s decision to support Richardson, a stranger at the time.

After Ethan’s death, Price’s son, Nick, was diagnosed with Pontine Glioma.

Nick’s tumor, although more rare than Ethan’s, was operable, and a team of surgeons in Arizona saved his life.

During the process, Price turned to Richardson for advice, and now the two have teamed up to help others after yet another Mount Pleasant boy, Jett Goldberg, was recently diagnosed with a rare brain tumor.

“As of last night I knew of five cases over the past three years,” Price said. “Now I know of 11.”

Eleven cases of rare tumors, and most cases have popped up in three neighboring Mt. Pleasant subdivisions — Park West, Dunes West and Rivertowne.

“When I talked to Jett's mom, I realized Jett lived in Dunes West and his tumor was on the brain stem as well, which is where Ethan’s and Nick's were.”

Richardson and Price said they’ve heard several stories of rare brain tumors and other cancer cases popping up within close proximity to one another, and they want to know what is the common denominator.

Is it the water?

Mt. Pleasant Mayor Linda Page tells ABC News 4 she is helping the families, and she contacted Mt. Pleasant Water Works. She said the water company said all of their testing is open and available to the public, and there is nothing to be worried about.

Is it the air, or simply more awareness of rare brain diseases as the population grows?

“I don't know. and that's why I'm sitting here talking to you,” said Price. “I don't know, and I'm hoping someone can find out.”

They’ve been in touch with health officials and Senator Lindsey Graham’s office, hoping to get answers in order to give other the peace of mind that they fought hard to have themselves.

“It was hard what we went through,” Price said. “It was harder what Brandi went through, and we don't want anybody else to go through it. That's really what it boils down to.”

ABC News 4 reached out to DHEC to see if they are investigating the 29466 and 29464 ZIP codes as potential cancer clusters. DHEC says it's is currently examining the data, but doesn't have an answer yet.

Although, according to the National Cancer Institute, even if a cancer cluster is determined to exist, it is still incredibly difficult to determine which environmental factor it could be attributed to, if any.

The investigators ask for details about the suspected cluster, such as the types of cancer and number of cases of each type, the age of the people with cancer, and the area and time period over which the cancers were diagnosed. They also ask about specific environmental hazards or concerns in the affected area.

Data from the American Cancer Institute shows 1,000 cancer clusters are reported in the United States every year.

"Brain tumors are rare," said Marie Price. "What's causing them to be more and more? Maybe if we can find out what's going on in Mount Pleasant, we can help the rest of the United States."

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