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Connor and Caden Ballard

They beat cancer, two to nothing.

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Brothers 10-year-old Connor and 6-year-old Caden Ballard have a lot in common. They are both very competitive, they love football, shooting hoops and battling it out on Wii. The two brothers also share something else in common -- the same cancer diagnosis, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

The boy's competitive nature and winning attitude is putting them on top of this game too. The boys beat cancer, two to nothing, and they did it together.

When Connor's little brother fell ill with the same disease, Connor taught him to be strong. When Caden's hair fell out, Connor told him it was cool. When Caden was having difficulty taking his dose of chemotherapy pills each day, big brother taught him how to swallow pills at age two. "The road has been easier for Caden because of his big brother," says their mother Chris Ballard. "Conner wrapped his arms around Caden and said if I can do it, you can do it."

The Ballards' journey with cancer began in 2003 when Connor became ill. What parents Chris and Lisa Ballard thought were normal childhood complaints turned out to reveal the devastating diagnosis of cancer. 

At that time, the family lived in St. Louis, Mo. Connor was five and his sister Carson was 3 years old. Accepting cancer was difficult for Chris and Lisa as they watched their oldest child begin chemotherapy treatment. But as time went on, tests showed that Connor's treatments were successful. That same year, Chris received a job opportunity that would bring the family back home to Omaha.

"It was great to get Connor back to Omaha and Children's Hospital," Chris says. "It felt so much better and we all felt so much more at home. There was no more fighting about going to the hospital. In fact, sometimes, I couldn't get the boys to leave."

Things began looking up that first year back in Omaha. Connor was doing very well with his treatments and had graduated to maintenance therapy. "We were settling back into our roots and now close to our friends and families," recalls Chris.

However, later that year, Chris and Lisa received more devastating news when
2-year-old Caden began to exhibit familiar symptoms. "Never in our wildest dreams would we have imagined that number two son would also be diagnosed with cancer, let alone the same cancer as Connor," Chris explains.

Children's pediatric oncologist, Minnie Abromowitch, M.D, treats both Connor and Caden at the cancer clinic at Children's. "It's very rare to see a sibling of one child with cancer to have cancer," says Dr. Abromowitch. "To have two children with the identical type of cancer, and present close together, is extremely unusual." 

The Ballard family grew to six with the birth of Cole, who is now 3 years old. As a family, they pulled together to meet the demanding expectations of everyday life as well as the healthcare needs for Connor and Caden.

Daily medications were a ritual for the siblings as each day Lisa carefully prepared the dosages for her sons. Connor took 11 pills and Caden took six. Treatment also included weekly visits to Children's Hospital for IV treatments. Because of the weakening effect chemotherapy has on the immune system, the first year of treatment was the most difficult for each of the boys. To prevent them from becoming ill, the boys were often restricted to the confines of their home, missing out on typical childhood play. Connor, whose condition was more severe, missed much of his kindergarten year due to frequent illness and hospital admissions.

Today, you would never know of Connor's and Caden's challenging past. Connor's basketball team made it to the championship round this winter and Caden scored two touchdowns in the last game of his football season.

"Caden is a ball of fire," says Lisa. "They are both doing so well physically and in school."

Life is nearly back to normal for the Ballard family. Connor and Caden are both finished with treatments but are still making regular follow-up check-ups with their doctor. "When I first found out about Connor, I thought my world and my life was over," Lisa recalls. "I felt that it couldn't get any worse than that. But you know what, it does get easier. And what I would tell another family is to just have faith, believe in the doctors and the treatments that they have today and take one day at a time."

Lisa says the future looks good for both boys. "Both are doing well and Dr. Abromowitch expects them to be cured of their leukemia and live long, normal, healthy lives."

"There's no doubt in my mind that being at Children's Hospital has been very, very important for their recovery," says Lisa. "It's a wonderful setting for the boys as they heal and it's like a home away from home. We know they are in the best of hands and they're going to be cured." 

For other stories, visit our Lionfighters blog.