I remember waking in the middle of the night 2 years ago and turning to my husband John and asking him, ‘You don’t think its leukaemia do you?’
His reassuring voice made me believe I was over-thinking and over-anxiously trying to diagnose our son’s recent general feelings of not being well. Night sweats could be explained by his tension filled days training to finish his helicopter training course. His breathlessness was obviously a January cold lingering, his nose bleed was something that had happened quite frequently as a young boy, the dizzy spells stress, and so on. But when several days turned into weeks and none of the symptoms disappeared and after various remedies failed to clear his now continuously hoarse voice, I insisted on him visiting an Italian doctor. He came back with a course of antibiotics and a 10-day period to take them. But nothing changed, instead the breathlessness got worse, the dizzy spells resulted in near fainting spells in the shower and by now Luke’s frustration in not shaking this bug was making him feel even more lethargic and weak.
On February 14th 2012, I insisted he went back to the doctor and this time insisted in coming in with him -- not popular with a man of 25! When the doctor, notably nervous, insisted on an immediate blood test at the local Pronto Soccorso (ER) Unit, we drove to the Ospedale di Circolo in Varese that evening at 6.30pm and handed the piece of paper the doctor had given us to somebody at the reception. Ten minutes later blood was taken and we were taken to the waiting room. Another 10 minutes went by, when a male nurse bent down next to Luke and told him in English to stay in his chair, not to move and that he would be offered a bed shortly. He explained that normal red blood (haemoglobin) counts ranged around 15 and Luke’s was 5. Normally one wouldn’t be able to stand, walk or do anything much without stressing the body into failure. Without blood oxygen reaching vital organs the scenario was acute.
I made a phone call to my husband who was boarding a plane from Dallas to Washington on a business trip to the US and told him where we were and promised to keep him informed. Having done that, Luke and I were not really any the wiser and it was only when a young female attendant came to visit and started asking Luke about symptoms like nose bleeds, bleeding gums, muscle strength and, more telling for me, asking if he had any siblings, that my heart starting thumping. And as I followed her out of the cubicle
When she went to arrange Luke’s admission I rang John in a blind panic. I can’t really remember what we said, but he was coming back and he told me Luke was not going to die! Luke was told and we cried in each others arms. Luke’s voice was so hoarse that his cries sounded like a seal barking and we almost ending up laughing. Then Luke started shaking his head over and over saying, ’I can’t believe I have cancer’. Meanwhile my phone went mad with family ringing in, having been alerted by John’s phone calls to rally the others. It is a surreal experience, where being brave and the security you feel being in a hospital take over and some how Luke and I made it up to a ward within the hour where he was hooked up to start treatment.
They told us that a bone marrow biopsy would determine the type of leukaemia and would be performed the following morning at 7aml and that chemotherapy would be started immediately. We somehow got through that night knowing John was on his long journey back and that family would be in Italy the next morning to be there. It was a Valentine’s night never to forget. Private thoughts and fears made me scream at the top of my voice in the car before I had to pick up a bag of pyjamas for Luke. The unfairness of a God bestowing something so cruel and unwarranted was what had me reeling with anger and the disbelief that I had instinctively known as a mother, a few weeks earlier, is what went round in my head. Luke’s story has been well-documented but what we never knew was that whilst we went through hell, we vowed to stay positive, even when staring near death down. Our family unit drew a drawbridge of support around us and nothing could come between us and whilst some friends rallied others fell away not knowing how to support. Painful as the experience was, the cliche is that it does change your life. Fear contracts and expands your life and now two years on, our total love and respect for Luke and his sisters who were complete bricks is unmeasurable.
Luke’s friends rallied in the spirit of youthful enthusiasm and has grown into something so worthwhile and courageous that it has becoming bigger than our story but something linking friendship, communities and sportsmanship. The journey Team Handsome but Rowdy is taking, we are being told by many, is encouraging other leukaemia sufferers with hope and a promise of what they might achieve when they get through their journey of hell.
For all those who are watching this next part of Luke’s journey unfold, I hope that witnessing their combined efforts of determination and courage will entice you all to offer support and friendship; and by giving them financial or practical support you can help them reach their goal and meet the challenges set by cycling across many countries and over some pretty big mountains.
Mother of Luke, from Team Handsome but Rowdy