This post is one that has been a long time coming. I’ve been waiting to get in that season of reflection and outcome from the tragedy that struck our family. I wanted to be able to emotionally reflect on the events and share them in a way that would be helpful to people looking in from the outside, the family that has just been diagnosed, or anyone who wonders what it’s like.
As many of you know, Valentine’s day weekend we were given the news that my fifteen-year-old brother had cancer. During this first diagnoses we did not know the type and were told that he had a very short amount of time left with us.
Rewind to November of last year. Luke had fallen very sick to what we first thought to be mono. He was very tired, was running low-grade fevers after football practice, and just wasn’t his bubbly self. When the fever continued every night for a week, we took him to the doctor. She ran some test; the flu, strep, and mono all came back to be negative. My mom decided that if the next day his mono panel came back negative, we were going to take him to the emergency room at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Every single one of the doctors, nurses, and surgeons were stumped on what this could be. He was tested for diseases caused by ticks, for cancer, for almost every single illness you could think of. During this time of being admitted to the hospital, nodules had formed on every major organ besides his heart. Many biopsies came from these nodules. He had a pole jabbed through his ribs (this is exactly how the surgeon explained the procedure), he had his stomach fluid removed for tests, and a biopsy on a tumor that had formed on his back. We were sent home, with an almost back to normal Luke, with the answer being mycobacteria.
He was feeling back to himself, going out with his friends, and just doing Luke things. When school started back, it was as if he had regained the remainder of his strength back. Baseball had come around full swing and he was practicing hard and getting ready for the fast approaching season. He had started complaining of pain coming from his elbow and his back. This was all just choked up to being a result from the season starting back. Though, the pain began to get worse and worse. Unknown to us, he was staying up most of the night pacing the floors in pain. He would take multiple baths a day trying to soak the “soreness”. It got to where he could no longer throw a ball; and this was saying something. Mom decided to take him to back to CHOA where we were turned away when she was told the massive tumor on his back was harmless. Something was up, and we all knew it. She quickly turned around to head back to the hospital when Luke was no longer functioning as a person. Our jokester was laying on the couch in tears because his whole body hurt. It was to the point where he could not answer a simple yes or no question. Back at the hospital, Mom demanded that he be tested. She said she was not leaving until there was an answer, and this time she was believed. Luke was quickly admitted with a whole new team on his case.
Fast forward to the end of the week, Thursday night I had a dream that woke me up with tears in my eyes. I had dreamed that Luke was diagnosed with cancer and my parents were hiding it from me. I quickly got up to see if my grandma had heard anything about his condition, everything was still the same. I went to work that day in a state of somberness. I would not reveal to anyone what my dream was about because I was afraid to speak any of that into existence. I had cried that morning on my way to work saying repeatedly that Luke did not deserving any of this. I prayed for him to be healed, I also prayed for God’s will. I prayed that everything our family did from here on out would be glorifying to God, this would soon become a prayer each of us prayed on the daily. I prayed that the doctors would find an answer to Luke’s medical mystery. I prayed all of this with tears pouring down my face. Fast forward a couple of hours and my worst nightmare would come true, literally.
I remember it so vividly. The way that my anxiety reacts when I’m scared of something bad happening. I feel my stomach in my throat and I get overly attentive to my surroundings. This is how I felt this whole day. I refused to go to the hospital because I did not want to see Luke in this way; in so much pain that he could not even ask for water, or the way that if you laid a finger on his body he winced. I was on our way to my cousin’s house and my dad had called. He asked where we were and you could hear the struggle in his voice. He quickly got off the phone and said that he was just wanting to check in. When we arrived at my cousin’s house, I received the news. He told me that they had received some bad news, and I knew without him having to say it. My cousin could not even say the sentence “it’s cancer” without tears in his eyes. Everyone started the emotional rollercoaster that would soon be our lives. I went into the back room and started calling everyone. As soon as I said the sentence, I busted into tears. It hit me, it’s cancer.
During this time, my parents were receiving news that nobody else would hear. The type of cancer they were sure Luke had was incurable. The doctors started talking to my parents about end of life care. Every time the nurses would come talk to Mom, they would just say how sorry they were. It was the type of words you think that will never be spoken to you. My mom asked everyone to start praying for a miracle. She asked the 200 plus people who came into the hospital to pray “God if your plan is not to get rid of this cancer, make it a diagnosis which will be curable”.
I was unable to talk after hearing this. It was if you were in a bad dream. Every time that your mind forgot about the situation you were facing, you would be reminded and go through the emotions all over again. I only cried a couple times but there were many times when I felt as though I could not breathe. The only way I can explain the emotions I felt was that the little energy I was able to muster up was all focused towards Luke. The first days of chemo, the only conversations I held were with Luke. I laid in bed with him, I wanted to be everything he needed.
This was a text I received from him on the day that he started chemo: “I don’t know what time you are coming down but Lainey I love you so much. You are my best friend forever. This is hard I know but you have to take care of mom and dad. Thank you for caring so much about me. I know I’m so very lucky and couldn’t ever have a better person to support me while I go through this. I love you and miss you. When I get over this, I owe you dinner and something fun to go and do. Next time you see me I’m going to look way different. A lucky little girl is going to be getting Luke’s flo-mania and she better enjoy it. I love you so much Lainey. I’m okay. See you in a bit”
I remember reading this over again amazed at his strength and the way this could be made into a joke. I would soon come to realize that this would be the way that we both would handle the situation. Luke would become a trooper, someone who barely complained, someone who chose to not have a pity party no matter how easy it would have been, someone who told us over and over again “it’s just cancer.” Luke’s mindset is something I whole heartedly believe has kept him from disintegrating during this trial in our life. We were just told last treatment by one of our doctors that they never see kids with the strength and body that Luke has. He has actually grown and put on weight. Just to put into prospective the way Luke has handled this; a big issue with chemo is that the patients lose their appetite and their sense of taste. Luke has been through chemo for six months and has never once complained about this, so we all just thought this was a symptom that did not affect him. He told my mom in a conversation the other day that he will eat a food and it will taste weird but his words were, “I know I have to eat and I know it tasted good before, so I guess I still like it.” Something that would be such an easy place for him to complain and not cooperate.
The Monday he started chemo was an extension of how the weekend had been. Everyone was somber, sitting around, trying to figure out how to handle the situation that had just been thrown at us. I remember sitting in the children’s toy room and my mom was telling us about how the nurse came in that morning to tell her that the doctor, a world-renowned cancer specialist, had been pacing the floor all night studying Luke’s case. She stated she had never seen him like this and everyone was wondering what was up. My mom just replied with, “I know that’s my God, he’s working.” Fast forward about two hours- the doctor walks in and explains the whole story, tells us he was stumped and just did not feel right with the diagnosis he had given two days prior. He looked at us and said after the test I received back I am convinced that this is a lymphoma. My mom jumped over Luke’s bed and almost tackled the poor man. With tears rolling down her eyes, she stated that God had answered her prayers.
Some people are more interested in giving a scientific explanation instead of trusting in God still being in the miracle business. I just want to point out that Luke’s body was failing, he would have passed away in less than a week with the cancer eating away at his body. In just November, he had the nodules (after re looking at tests those had turned out to be Lymphoma too) on every major organ, including his brain. When the cancer has spread this much it is almost never curable. In November, my mom asked everyone to pray for an answer, and if God was not going to show us an answer that his body would just be healed. We never got an answer but those nodules were healed, yes, he had cancer still in his body, yes, he still had lymphoma, but I know for an absolute fact that MY LORD healed his organs so it could be fought. I know that MY JESUS turned that deadly bone cancer diagnosis into a lymphoma within a matter of 48 hours. And I know that MY GOD has kept Luke strong through this whole process and put people in our paths for their lives to be touched.
Our verse for Luke was Matthew 17:20 which stated, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." This verse was one I had kept thinking about that first weekend he was diagnosed. I would say this is just another mountain to climb, or this is just a bump in the road. God can and will move mountains. Another verse that really stood out to me was brought to my attention from a lady that came and brought us supper one night. She was telling us the story of her son having cancer when he was young and a verse one of the elders of the church prayed upon her son. The verse is from the death of Lazarus in John 11. It states: “Lord, he whom you love is ill. But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the son of God may be glorified through it”.” For those who do not know the story; Lazarus, Mary (not Jesus' mother), and Martha were all very close friends with Jesus. Jesus was out of town when Lazarus fell sick. Both Mary and Martha sent for Jesus multiple times. He responds with this verse. Fast forward 4, yes 4 days, that Lazarus has been dead. He was buried in his tomb before Jesus arrived. He asks Martha to see him, she takes him to the grave and he tells him to arise from the dead. And just like that Lazarus was awaken from four days of being dead. The story teaches about God’s timing always being perfect and how everything, even death can be used to glorify the Lord. It was as if I had been hit in the face. Everything we had been praying, asking God to use us for his Glory, he was telling us, “Yes, this will be used for my good, have patience.” I remember when people would try to test my faith, they would ask well if God really loves everyone or if God doesn’t allow bad things to happen then why to children get cancer? I finally have my answer. I believe that God did allow Luke to have cancer. This is God’s plan for Luke’s life. He has an amazing testimony, he does not have to question or ask if God is real because he saw it first hand, he has a tool to minister to so many kids that are going through this right now. I want to point out a reminder that God never said the road would be easy for Christians, but he said it would be worth it. I think that if only one person came to know Jesus Christ as their savior, the whole 6 months would be worth it.