Connor Gerber, a boy whose photo was used in a hoax that portrayed him as a dying leukemia patient in Colorado, has his own story. A true one.
He's 11 years old and lives in Cape Town, South Africa. He has battled neuroblastoma, a cancer that attacks the nerve cells, for seven years. He was originally diagnosed with Stage 4, and was given less than a year to live. He has beaten the odds against a very lethal disease.
But Connor has had a second relapse "and is unfortunately not doing very well at the moment and is in discomfort and pain," his father, Bruce Gerber, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
Connor has been treated in his hometown and at Sloan Kettering hospital in New York City. His family even took up residence in New York for a year and half, Bruce said. Now, Connor cannot return to Sloan Kettering until his body can tolerate more aggressive treatment.
"We are treating him with a moderate protocol recommended by Sloan Kettering in the hope that it will keep his disease stable while he gets his strength back," his father said.
Connor doesn't know he was featured in a cruel trick played on the residents of Gypsum, Colo. His dad said it would upset him too much.
In a story that gained nationwide attention, 22-year-old Briana Augustenborg made up a tale about a local boy named Alex who had leukemia and stole Connor's photo off a website to represent Alex. Community members opened up their hearts and honored "Alex" at a football game after the fictional boy's supposed death. But an obituary of Alex drew suspicion and the lack of a death certificate revealed the lie.
Bruce Gerber said his family felt violated by the fraud and urged others not to let the incident harden their caring nature.
He wrote to HuffPost:
To the community that was fooled, even though we were not aware Connor’s photo was being used we still feel unwittingly involved and although this was a hoax we hope that it will not negatively affect your willingness to show your support to children and families like us who are really in this situation.
"The support of individuals and communities such as this makes a huge difference in the lives of families and children fighting cancer and it would be a travesty if the actions of this individual prevented this and other communities from giving the support these families so desperately need.
Want to help? Visit bandofparents.org, a fundraising site put together by parents of children fighting neuroblastoma.