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Community rallies as child fights rare cancer

Family overwhelmed by support for middle school student in medical crisis.

March 04, 2014|By Alene Tchekmedyian, alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com
  • Christopher Wilke, 12, of Burbank, is at Children's Hospital Los Angeles for treatment of a rare disease he is battling on Monday, March 3, 2014. The disease is a a bile duct cancer that is rare for adults, and nearly unheard of for children.
Christopher Wilke, 12, of Burbank, is at Children's… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Four strands of colorful beads dangled from Christopher Wilke’s IV pole as he sat on the couch in his hospital room overlooking Los Angeles.

PHOTOS: Burbank 12-year-old's battle with rare form of cancer

The yellow beads — more than two dozen of them — represented the number of nights the 12-year-old Burbank resident has spent in the hospital in the last two months. The white ones stood for each round of chemotherapy. The black beads: every time he’s been poked. Silver: every clergy visit.

In total, there were nearly 300 beads.

“It’s like I’ve been through a lot,” Christopher said while looking at the strands that symbolized his life story since Jan. 4.

That’s the day the David Starr Jordan Middle School student was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare cancer of the bile duct.

Christopher is the first patient on record at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles — and among the youngest patients ever — to be diagnosed with a pure cholangiocarcinoma, according to Dr. Hung Tran, the hospital’s pediatric oncologist and assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

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As hospital bills begin to pile up, the Wilkes have been overwhelmed by community support, which has come by way of $20,000 in donations for medical bills and home-cooked meals for the whole family, said Christopher’s father, Joe Wilke.

Joe Wilke’s co-workers at the city of Glendale raised $3,000 for him at a recent barbecue, and Christopher’s Boy Scout troop raised $5,000 by hosting a pancake breakfast.

Halfway through the pancake breakfast — for which the Scouts were equipped to serve 300 meals — they had to buy more sausages because they were running low on food.

On top of that, three of Christopher’s friends started “Change Works” — a campaign named by using his initials — through which they’ve been selling green wrist bands at $1 each to raise money for Christopher and other children with cancer.

“That was cool, we’ve been getting a lot of support from that,” Christopher said. “It’s spreading and spreading.”

So far, Christopher, an All-Star Team baseball player and Angels fan, has been through five rounds of chemotherapy, the most recent of which lasted 16 hours. His next round is slated for next week.

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