CANONSBURG, Pa. - A former student in the Canon-McMillan School District has been diagnosed with the same rare cancer that killed his classmate, but parents and doctors disagree over what could be causing it.
When doctors diagnosed Mitch Barton with Ewing's sarcoma in December, he -- like most other Canon Mac students -- was already familiar with the disease.
"I was familiar with it because my friend Luke Blanock went through it," Barton said.
Blanock's fight and determination following his 2013 diagnosis moved his community. He continued to play basketball while undergoing dozens of chemotherapy treatments and inspired the hashtag “LukeStrong,” which graced wristbands and T-shirts. Blanock eventually lost his battle with cancer in 2016, months after marrying his high school sweetheart in a community-organized wedding.
Since then, as many as eight parents have reached out to the Blanocks and Bartons to say their child is also battling Ewing's sarcoma, a condition that causes cancerous tumors to grow on the bones.
"It doesn't seem like it's a rare cancer anymore," Mitch's mother, Christine Barton, said. "Especially around our community, our area."
Nationally, fewer than 200 cases of Ewing's sarcoma are diagnosed each year, according to the National Institute of Health. Doctors at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh typically see three to five cases per year, but can't comment on how many of those cases are in the Canonsburg area because of HIPAA laws.
"We definitely find it unusual that there are several cases in Canonsburg, particularly because this tumor is so incredibly rare," Dr. Julia Meade said.
"We don't really know what causes this cancer to show up in children and young adults," she said.
>>FULL INTERVIEW: Doctor discusses rare cancer
But people in Barton's hometown believe it's environmental, pointing to oil and gas drilling in the area, as well as a uranium dump site that sits along Chartiers Creek.
"Could it be something environmental? We don't know," Christine Barton said. "It seems like for the cancer to be so rare, from what they tell us, and when you look at the numbers in our area...it just puts up a red flag."
Canon McMillian graduate Kyle Deliere was also diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma and fought a courageous 3-year battle. Deliere, a wrestler, died in 2013.
A friend of Deliere's told Channel 11 he was an all-around stand up person and liked by everyone. He lit up a room with his contagious smile. He was a friend to so many and is to this day an inspiration to people in his community.
Kyle was a phenomenal athlete who earned multiple championship titles including the WPIAL and Powerade Title.
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