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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,
  • 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.


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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