• Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    In 2011, Steve Vue, a junior at Service High School, had what he thought was a bad chest cold. Eventually, doctors discovered a large tumor in his chest. He underwent chemotherapy and surgery to remove it.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Mitchell Xayapraseuth looks at medical equipment during a hospital stay for chemotherapy treatment. Mitchell began to suspect he had cancer when he visited his friend Steve in the hospital. Both were diagnosed with cancer within weeks of each other.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Steve talks with Service High School nurse Panna Jarussi. Jarussi suspected something serious when Steve came to her office with chest pain and sent him to a doctor. She has only encountered childhood cancers a handful of times in her career.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Steve Vue visits his friend Mitchell Xayapraseuth at Providence Alaska Medical Center while Mitchell receives chemotherapy. “He knows what I’m dealing with, and I know what he’s dealing with,” Mitchell said.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Still bald from the effects of chemotherapy, Mitchell dances in a cap at a Junior ROTC ball. Steve and Mitchell, both in JROTC, tried to keep life as normal as possible during their cancer treatments.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Steve Vue, left, talks with Mitchell Xayapraseuth at the Military Ball for Junior ROTC students and their dates. “He’s the only person I want to see when I’m down and stuff,” Mitchell said. Both were diagnosed with cancer just weeks apart.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Mitchell Xayapraseuth drives a go-cart at Roadrunner Amusements with friends from Service High’s B-Boy break dancing club in May 2012.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Steve Vue dressed as Russell from the movie “Up” for the Service High School homecoming float. Steve and Mitchell completed cancer treatments just before their senior year began.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Steve and Mitchell spend time in an arcade in May 2012.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Steve Vue, left, sits with his family of 10 in Anchorage. His parents, Koua Vue and Ia Yang, were born in Hmong refugee camps in Thailand but spent most of their lives in the U.S. They moved to Alaska from California in 2008, hoping to provide a better life for their children. Seated on the floor is, from left, Eric, Karen, and Debbie. On the sofa is Steve, Andy, Koua, Ia, Sunshine, Honey, and Sarah.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    A photo of Steve Vue’s grandmother, Sei, hangs in the family home. Steve’s parents say her spirit appeared to his younger sister Debbie in the middle of the night. She had a message.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    A cloth doll represents Steve’s grandmother, Sei.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Thong Souk lit candles and set them on a plate in the front yard. Their light sent her prayers to the heavens, she said.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Steve shows his youngest brother, Eric, a pig in a dog carrier at their home in Anchorage. Later that night, the pig was killed as a spiritual offering.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Steve’s parents, Ia Yang and Koua Vue, watch as a shaman calls the spirit of Steve’s grandmother to their home.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    A shaman stands on a bench that symbolizes a horse transporting him into the spiritual realm. In a trance, he chants and stomps, looking for the spirit of Sei, Steve Vue’s grandmother. He had come to the family’s South Anchorage home so the they could make offerings to her.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Men kill a pig in the entryway of Steve Vue’s home as an offering to his grandmother’s spirit. They believe she intervened to keep Steve from dying of cancer. Members of the Vue clan also sacrificed a cow. The ceremony, which lasted a weekend, cost his family more than $1,000.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Family and friends gather around cowhide boiling in a pot on the second evening of the ceremony. Steve’s parents and clan members traveled to a farm in the Mat-Su valley area to kill the cow as part of a ritual meant to feed his grandmother’s spirit.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Mitchell Xayapraseuth’s uncle shaves his head on the morning of his great-grandfather’s funeral. He and other men in his family donned monks’ robes for the service at the Wat Lao Temple in Mountain View. Mitchell’s family wants him to join the temple as thanks for his health.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Mitchell, center, joins other men in his family at the funeral ceremony for his great-grandfather. Mitchell said he intends to join the temple for a longer period as repayment for his restored health. “My grandpa did it, my great-grandpa did it, my great-great-grandpa did it, so now it’s coming down to me,” he said. “I don’t want it to stop where I am.”

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Mitchell holds a banner for his senior class during the homecoming football game in September 2012. He’d just returned from Portland, where he finished his last round of cancer treatment.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage, Alaska

    Steve Vue warms up for a performance with the Service B-Boys in October 2012. Steve says cancer motivated him to take better care of his health.

  • Marc Lester, photojournalist, Anchorage Daily News

    Mitchell looks at the audience gathered at his high school graduation ceremony. Both Steven and Mitchell plan to study to become mechanics.

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