April 18, 2013 

The things that happen: Two boys and cancer

Story by Julia O'Malley | Photos by Marc Lester

Writer Julia O'Malley and photographer Marc Lester spent a year following teenage best friends Steve Vue and Mitchell Xayapraseuth after both were diagnosed with rare childhood cancers. This is the story of their treatment and how they and their families dealt with and explained what happened to them.


Chapter one: A bad feeling - In late 2011, Steve Vue, a junior at Service High School, is diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer. A few weeks later, his best friend, Mitchell Xayapraseuth, says he is having strange, troubling symptoms.

Chapter two: Luck goes bad - Mitchell’s mysterious health problems get worse. Then doctors give him unbelievable news.

Chapter three: What spirits expect - The doctors say Steve Vue’s medical prognosis is good, but the shaman tells his family he still has a spiritual debt to pay.

Chapter four: The worth of a boy - The Hmong community gathers for a ceremonial sacrifice at Steve’s house. Mitchell awaits news from doctors about whether his treatment worked.

Chapter five: Cancer ghosts - Mitchell finally gets cancer news. Will he live at the Buddhist temple as his family expects? Both boys look toward the future.



Video: Part 1
- One teenager getting cancer is rare. Two best friends getting diagnosed at the same time seems impossible. That's what happened to Steve Vue and Mitchell Xayapraseuth. They boys talk about the experience of going through treatment together and returning to normal teenage life.


Video: Part 2
- After extensive, successful cancer treatment, Steve and Mitchell's families urged the boys to be part of spiritual rituals to show gratitude for their good luck. The boys learn what's expected according to Hmong and Lao traditions.

Two boys and cancer

Steve Vue’s cough wouldn’t go away. That’s how the story starts when he tells it. His mom took him to the urgent care. Bad virus, they said. Give it time. But the ache in his bones in the fall of 2011 got worse, especially in his chest, as if his heart were swelling under his ribs. Fatigue snowed him. He went to the urgent care again.

Story by Julia O'Malley      |       Photos by Marc Lester

Chapter one: 'Just come to the hospital' - Steve Vue’s cough wouldn’t go away. That’s how the story starts when he tells it. His mom took him to the urgent care. Bad virus, they said. Give it time. But the ache in his bones in the fall of 2011 got worse, especially in his chest, as if his heart were swelling under his ribs. Fatigue snowed him. He went to the urgent care again. They gave him antibiotics. He stayed home from school for a week, then another.

Chapter two: Chasing Mitchell - Bad virus, they said. Give it time. But the ache in his bones in the fall of 2011 got worse, especially in his chest, as if his heart were swelling under his ribs. Fatigue snowed him. He went to the urgent care again. They gave him antibiotics. He stayed home from school for a week, then another.eve Vue’s cough wouldn’t go away. That’s how the story starts when he tells it. His mom took him to the urgent care. Ba

Chapter three: What a spirit expects - Bad virus, they said. Give it time. But the ache in his bones in the fall of 2011 got worse, especially in his chest, as if his heart were swelling under his ribs. Fatigue snowed him. He went to the urgent care again. They gave him antibiotics. He stayed home from school for a week, then another.eve Vue’s cough wouldn’t go away. That’s how the story starts when he tells it. His mom took him to the urgent care.

Chapter four: A boy's worth - Std virus, they said. Give it time. But the ache in his bones in the fall of 2011 got worse, especially in his chest, as if his heart were swelling under his ribs. Fatigue snowed him. He went to the urgent care again. They gave him antibiotics. He stayed home from school for a week, then another.eve Vue’s cough wouldn’t go away. That’s how the story starts when he tells it. His mom took him to the urgent care.

Chapter five: Cancer's ghosts - Bad virus, they said. Give it time. But the ache in his bones in the fall of 2011 got worse, especially in his chest, as if his heart were swelling under his ribs. Fatigue snowed him. He went to the urgent care again. They gave him antibiotics. He stayed home from school for a week, then another.eve Vue’s cough wouldn’t go away. That’s how the story starts when he tells it. His mom took him to the urgent care.