Via CBS DFW (Source)
Via CBS DFW (Source)
Via Fox 4 Sports (Source)
By Barry Horn, The Dallas Morning News (Source)
All those years playing quarterback in college and the NFL, Babe Laufenberg made Christmas trips to try to lift the spirits of sick children in hospitals. His very last college game was at East-West Shrine Game. It raised money for children’s hospitals. The NFL Players Association once sent him all the way to Alaska on a hospital mission.
All those years his wife, Joan, a retired nurse practitioner whose specialty was pediatric oncology, came home with gut-wrenching stories from her workday.
“Never in your wildest imagination do you expect it to be your child,” Laufenberg was saying the other day.
Surely it would never be your 6-31/2, 235-pound, 19-year-old, college football-playing son.
Luke Laufenberg has leukemia. More specifically, he has Burkitt leukemia, which the National Cancer Institute describes as “fast growing” and “rare.”
When Luke was first diagnosed the day after Christmas, the doctors told his parents that the disease had infiltrated 95 percent of their youngest son’s bone marrow.
The immediate prescription: seven months of chemotherapy.
If only the doctor who first examined Luke back at his junior college in Arizona and told him he had the flu had been correct.
Laufenberg remembers that by the time Luke came home from Mesa Community College in mid-December, the boy was in such horrific pain that morphine did nothing.
Thank you to everyone who has sent thoughts and prayers for my @LukeLaufenberg -He is battling his ass off. In a tough fight. And at this moment, I am also thinking about EVERY kid and EVERY family in every corner of the world having their own battles. God bless. pic.twitter.com/TCVwxaanDL
— Babe Laufenberg (@BabeLaufenberg) January 19, 2018
That was before the Cowboys traveled to Oakland for a Dec. 17 game against the Raiders. Laufenberg, the Cowboys’ radio analyst, worked the game.
Funny what points of reference can be used in charting the comings and goings of a NFL broadcaster.
By the time the Cowboys played Seattle at home the next week on Christmas Eve, everyone knew it was more than the flu that made Luke’s unchecked pain unbearable for his father to witness. But there was no diagnosis yet. Laufenberg worked the game.
“I knew something bad was happening,” Laufenberg said. “I felt there would not be good news.”
A father’s sorrow
The bad news came Dec. 26. Babe Laufenberg began crying. Uncontrollably. He cried just about all the time. He cried before he went to bed at night and first thing when he woke in the morning. He cried, he said, “for two straight weeks.”
For the first time in his decades working Cowboys games, Laufenberg, a Cowboy from 1989-90, didn’t visit their locker room to prep for the next game.
Five days later, he worked the season finale in Philadelphia.
He thought about not making the trip but weighed that against having to answer questions about why. Gregarious on the outside but intensely private on the inside, he shared his story with fellow broadcasters Brad Sham and Kristi Scales, some close friends but few others.
Sham will tell you he listens back to all Cowboys broadcast with a critical ear. He will also tell you he was astounded by his partner’s performance, which didn’t skip a beat. If it sounds trite to be mentioning such relative minutiae at a time like this, here’s Sham on his friend:
“As a father, I am in awe of him,” he said.
Laufenberg decided to publicly share his story Friday after Luke finished his first round of chemo and was home with his mother. He checked with Luke to make sure it was OK.
The father choked up in the telling. He paused several times to regain composure. Once he could tell you everything you needed to know about spread offenses. Unfortunately, now he can also recite everything he knows about spreading leukemia.
Friends show support
Laufenberg says his “sweet” son can be relatively upbeat when he isn’t retching from the chemo and mega doses of drugs.
Of one thing the father is certain. Luke, who has lost 57 pounds during his ordeal, is determined to return to the football field.
Luke has joked that his impending comeback will make a great story for ESPN’s 30 for 30 feature series. After all, it has been determined that when he caught three passes in Mesa’s season-ending bowl, his leukemia was already spreading. You think Jason Witten, who once played with a lacerated spleen, is tough? How about Luke Laufenberg playing with leukemia?
In the good old days in high school at Argyle Liberty Christian, Luke caught passes from close friend Nick Starkel, now a quarterback at Texas A&M. Luke, once a tight end like Witten but now a budding wide receiver, spent a season at A&M as a preferred walk-on before moving on to chase his playing dream.
Starkel has visited his buddy in the hospital. So too did Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and quarterback J.T. Barrett when they were making random rounds during Cotton Bowl week. Luke and Barrett, a Texas high school product, reminisced about time spent together at summer football camps. Turns out Meyer once coached at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, which has been recruiting Luke out of Mesa. He said he would put in a good word there about Luke.
Luke’s older brother Joe Willie happened to be a coaching intern last season at USC, which played against Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. Let it be known that a 22-year-old paid USC staff member has slept in his brother’s hospital room.
Jason Garrett, Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach also have visited.
All the talk about familiar football and his star-studded cast of visitors has made Luke smile.
“Motivating Luke now is his trying to get back to football,” his father said. “We have our diagnosis. So here we go.”
What is Burkitt leukemia?
According to the National Cancer Institute, it is a rare, fast-growing type of leukemia (blood cancer) in which too many white blood cells called B lymphocytes form in the blood and bone marrow. It may start in the lymph nodes as Burkitt lymphoma and then spread to the blood and bone marrow, or it may start in the blood and bone marrow without involvement of the lymph nodes. Both Burkitt leukemia and Burkitt lymphoma have been linked to infection with the Epstein-Barr virus.