Cluster of cancer cases hit West Salem children

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by Pat Dooris

KREM.com

Posted on October 2, 2012 at 8:52 AM

SALEM -- Lisa Harder lived her dream when she was named the homecoming queen at West Salem High School on Sept. 21st. It was the first time she'd left her bed in two weeks.

“You think we could put your tiara on your highness, your royal highness?” family friend Ben Bryson asked as he leaned over her bed.

Lisa’s in hospice care, nearing the end of her battle with osteo-sarcoma, a rare form of childhood cancer.

“It’s pretty obvious there’s a lot of hurting people right now,” said Bryson, one of many frustrated that health experts are not investigating the cluster of childhood cancers in West Salem. “It’s time for the experts to ask some tough questions.”

Health experts report that cancer clusters are difficult to investigate because there are too many variables and too few cases to pin the cancers on any one cause. Oregon Public Health Officer Mel Kohn said the state did a brief review after learning about the West Salem cancers, but found the county’s cancer rate no higher than the rest of the state’s. That ended the investigation.

Lisa’s mom wants them to take another look.

“I’m sorry but there’s five kids in 3-and-a-half years with osteo-sarcoma and two have passed away. I’m sorry, that’s a lot for West Salem,” Gail Harder said.

The first case involved a happy little boy, 5-year-old Darien King. His mom Abby and dad Craig started a foundation to help parents who have kids with cancer.

“He was six when he passed away,” said Abby King. She said there's a great need "to let them know they are not alone on the journey.”

The next teen to develop osteo-sarcoma was Randy Bultena. It hit during his senior year at West Salem High.

“During that time you're kinda like a deer in the headlights. You can’t think everything through," said his mom Lenette.

The week after Randy’s diagnosis, Lisa Harder learned she had the same type of cancer. And now 17-year-old West Salem High student Tyler Prosser has it too.

A fourth teen, a girl from the same high school, did not want to be publicly identified.

Randy Bultena left Doernbecher Hospital to cross the stage for graduation in 2009. “I think it helped Randy to know he could help somebody,” his mom said.

Randy died July 29, 2012.

His mom is furious to hear there will be no investigation into the apparent cancer cluster because it's too difficult to pin down a cause for the cancers.

“Difficult?" She asked. "Difficult is watching your child die! That’s difficult!”

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