Three young brothers are fighting the same rare childhood cancer

By Mallory Hughes, CNN

    (CNN) -- Three brothers, none of them older than 5, are battling the same type of rare childhood cancer.

Aaron and Angie Rush have three boys -- Tristen, 5, Caison, 3, and Carter, 7 months -- and all have been diagnosed with retinoblastoma.

"It was a shock and it was a surprise. It was very emotional. It's hard to handle sometimes," Angie told CNN's sister network HLN. "But they are such a blessing."

Retinoblastoma is an eye cancer that begins in the retina and commonly affects young children, according to the website for the Mayo Clinic. It can occur in one or both eyes and is the most common form of eye cancer in children.

As a child, Angie battled the same cancer. She said she knew there was a 50% chance of passing it onto her own children but never expected all three would have to fight the same disease.

"But I've done great. I'm a teacher and I'm hoping to make a difference," Angie said.

According to Mayo, gene mutations increase the risk of retinoblastoma being passed on from parents to children. Hereditary retinoblastoma tends to develop at an earlier age.

Tristen was 4 weeks old when he was diagnosed. Caison was diagnosed at birth. Carter was born cancer-free, but at 6 months old, two tumors were discovered in his eyes. He started chemotherapy treatments last month.

"It's not one that gets a lot of spotlight when you hear about childhood cancer," Aaron said.

Treatments and cost

In families with the inherited form of retinoblastoma, preventing it may not be possible, according to Mayo. However, an early diagnosis is key for a high chance of a cure and preserving vision.

The three boys have endured chemotherapy, laser treatments, MRIs, evaluations under anesthesia and countless visits to Children's Hospital of Atlanta.

Because of the cost of cancer treatment for three children, Angie and Aaron have sold their suburban Atlanta home and moved in with family to pay the medical bills.

"We set up a GoFundMe even just to try to raise a little bit of money, because it does cost a lot of money, even with insurance," Aaron told HLN.

Sometimes people think everything's covered, he said, but that's not the case.

"We have to sacrifice," he said.

The GoFundMe page has exploded, Aaron said, adding that people have been generous in helping raise funds that will go toward the boys' treatments.

Mother: Sickness has 'made them stronger'

While Carter's treatments have just begun, Angie said Tristen and Caison are doing well.

"They haven't had any new tumors in a very long time," she said. "They still go for checkups and they go for MRIs and they're watched closely by the doctors."

Tristen said he hopes to become a doctor one day to research this type of cancer.

"It's made them stronger," Angie said. "It's something that they can talk to other people about and encourage other kids with cancer just to give them strength and be a blessing to others."

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