This Father’s Day is extra special for cancer survivor Luke Tripodi. Not only is it his very first – his son, Sammy, was born January 9 of this year – but the fact Luke was able to have a child is a miracle in several ways.
In the fall of 2005, Luke’s future did not look nearly so bright. The conversation about treatment for his synovial sarcoma – diagnosed in 2001 when Luke was just 21 years old – had changed from lifesaving options to life extending options. Initially, he had just one tumor, isolated to his left thigh. Luke received surgery and radiation therapy, and he was in the clear until 2004, when the cancer metastasized to his left lung. At 25 years old, Luke now had stage IV synovial sarcoma.
“Upon initial diagnosis, I was a college kid and never fully appreciated the severity of it. For me it was like, oh it is just a tumor in my leg and I will have surgery and move on with my life. I did not fully appreciate how serious it was until it came back in my lung. At that point, you are talking stage IV and you are talking about a vital organ. It was a realization that I was now dealing with something that was life threatening,” he says.
After receiving the stage IV diagnosis in 2004, Luke saw a doctor at University of Wisconsin Hospital who was both a thoracic surgeon and oncologist. Luke’s doctor offered him the choice between surgery and chemo for treatment, and Luke ultimately chose surgery because his doctor believed that removing the tumor would obtain clean margins. And the procedure did result in clean margins. Unfortunately, during his three-month checkup appointment, Luke learned that another tumor had appeared in his left lung.
After concluding that there were likely microscopic tumors present, Luke’s medical team decided to administer chemotherapy first to go after the microscopic tumors and shrink the largest tumor, and follow with surgery. At the time, chemotherapy was not very effective at treating synovial sarcoma, and the largest tumor did not shrink at all after two rounds of chemo, so the only option left was surgery. Luke’s doctor removed a bit more of his lung and the tumor that was visible.
It was at Luke’s first checkup following the second surgery, when they discovered yet another visible tumor, when his medical team felt they may have run out of lifesaving solutions. The only curative option left was to remove Luke’s entire left lung. Since no tumors had appeared outside of his left lung after the first tumor in his thigh, Luke’s doctor theorized that the cancer may have been isolated to the left lung. In November of 2005, Luke underwent surgery to remove the lung.
Luke has had no evidence of disease since that procedure, but the three-month recovery process was difficult for him.
“I am generally a happy person, but I went through a pretty dark time. I lost a lot of weight, was very weak and really felt like a cancer patient. I went through moments when I felt like I would never get better. I was working, but living at home with my parents. It was my parents and my brothers and sister who helped pull me out of that funk and helped nurse me back to health,” he says.
When Luke learned about Imerman Angels from his roommate in 2008, he felt that becoming a Mentor Angel would provide an opportunity to use his struggles with cancer to give back. Since he registered, Luke has served as a Mentor Angel about a dozen times.
“I had tremendous support from my family when I went through cancer, but I did not have someone who went through exactly what I did and survived it. When I get paired up as a Mentor Angel, it takes me back to that time and I think about how far I have come. The peer support clearly means a lot to people, because my mentees are always so grateful. It is a responsibility that I do not take lightly and something that I am happy to do,” he says.
Luke feels a great deal of gratitude for the path his own life has taken as a cancer survivor. He married his wife, Megan, in 2011 and as mentioned earlier, became a father in 2016. There was a time when Luke thought he might not be able to have children due to the chemotherapy he endured years ago.
“Every time I put Sammy to bed, I stand over his crib and I am very thankful we were able to have a child, and I hope we can have another child down the road. I always wanted to be a dad, because my dad is my best friend. I really believe that without my family, I would not be here, and now my wife is a part of that. They have been an amazing support system. For example, Megan has always insisted on coming along with me to my checkups. I feel super blessed to have my wife and my son,” he says.
Click here to join Luke in providing critical one-on-one peer support as a Mentor Angel to a cancer fighter, survivor or caregiver.