In January, 8-year-old Luke French will return to Lincoln Elementary after spending much of the past year recovering from cancer treatments that tested his strength and set him on a path toward recovery.
In early December 2012, an MRI scan revealed two malignant tumors growing on Luke's brain. Weeks before the scan, Luke would unexpectedly throw up at school or at home, with the sudden illness taking hold of him as quickly as it seemed to leave, puzzling everyone around him.
After hearing the diagnosis, Luke's parents were shocked.
“It's nothing you ever really expect to go through as a parent,” Luke's mother, Lisa, said.
For more than the next six months, Luke received a series of chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell treatments at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Luke's parents turned to family and friends, and prayer, they said.
“You realize it's completely out of your control,” his father, Bill, added. “It's a day-to-day journey.”
Now nearly a year after his diagnosis, Luke's hair has begun to grow back and his immune system is strong enough for him to return to Lincoln Elementary next month and reunite with his third-grade classmates.
Over the past year, his parents say they are grateful for the team of doctors and nurses, family and friends who have supported them, and helped care for their younger son, Ryan, who is 6.
“You see a lot of incredible blessings in the midst of difficult times,” Lisa French said. “You saw a lot of caring wonderful people, nurses…doctors who are unbelievable…you see the strength of other families coping with it and getting through...you just do it.”
Luke, a young USC Trojan and Dodger fan, also won support from professional sports stars. Once, Dodger player Clayton Kershaw mailed him a letter of encouragement and a personally signed baseball.
While receiving care at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Luke met NFL quarterback Matt Leinart, who was visiting young patients at the hospital. Then on a separate occasion, NFL quarterback Matt Barkley visited Luke after hearing he was a huge fan. During their nearly hourlong visit, Luke and Barkley did push-ups together and talked about life's challenges.
“He said, ‘You keep fighting on and know that God's with you and that you'll get through this,” Bill French recalled Barkley saying.
For Luke, who will turn 9 in May, the obstacles he faced in the hospital were hard, but he smiled this week when he said, “I just did it.”
Luke's pediatric oncologist, Anat Epstein, described Luke as “a lovely, warm, smiling kid,” adding that “no matter what comes his way, he just says, ‘OK,'” she said.
One of Luke's most recent reasons to celebrate his health came earlier this month, when he steadily ran for the first time in months during the Heroes of Hope 5K run/walk through the Brad Kaminsky Foundation. In all, more than 70 of Luke's friends and family participated in the event at Dockweiler State Beach and raised more than $12,000 for experts to research brain tumors at Children's Hospital.
After nearly a year of friends and family praying for Luke, helping to care for Luke's younger brother Ryan when his parents spent entire nights at the hospital, and donating blood and platelets to Children's Hospital, Lisa French said participating in the walk was a way to give back.
“It was a culmination, celebration of everything…after having all these people support us through the whole year and come together and help us raise some money,” Lisa said. “It was a really special day.”
While celebrating Thanksgiving with family days ago, Bill and Lisa said they acknowledged how grateful they were in spite of the past year's challenges, and they cherish Luke's recovery.
“The only way you get through it is, for us, in trusting in God to take care of Luke and all the people — just the constant outpouring [of support],” Bill French said. “It has been a journey.”
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.