By Madison Vranish, Point Park News Service:
At just 15 years old in 2013, Luke Blanock started experiencing a strange pain in his back and spinal area.
After a series of medical checks, Blanock learned that the problems he was experiencing were related to Ewing’s Sarcoma, an extremely rare type of bone cancer. His prospects for survival were bleak.
“This disease ends lives,” Blanock said.
But over the past three years Blanock, a fifth-year senior at Canon-McMillan High School, has been fighting this horrible disease with his family, close friends and entire community by his side. While he fought valiantly, he recently learned that his cancer is progressing to the point of no return.
Still, he refuses to lose hope.
Blanock’s biggest fear upon his diagnosis was how bad the pain of treatment would be. Initially he had incredible confidence that he would beat the disease.
Despite his fears, Blanock would not be fighting this battle alone for long. The #LukeStrong movement would soon be started.
Blanock’s long time friend and baseball teammate, Jake Trainor, would become one of the leaders of the multi-platform support network. Trainor has been friends with Blanock since they were little kids playing baseball for Cecil Township Youth Baseball.
After Blanock’s diagnosis became public, Trainor made a sign that said, “#LukeStrong,” to display at a basketball game Blanock would be attending. He offered everyone who was present the opportunity to sign the sign to show Blanock that he was not fighting this battle alone. Little did Trainor know how quickly the phrase #LukeStrong would become a message of hope locally and across Western Pennsylvania.
Within a few days #LukeStrong would be posted all over social media in support of Blanock’s battle.
“I never thought that it would take off and become this symbol that it is today with the news channels using it and professional athletes reaching out,” Trainor said.
A few years passed by and Blanock was doing very well with treatments and the progression of the cancer had slowed. For a time, both Blanock and those close to him hoped he was winning his long battle with cancer, even though he had a few recurrences.
Three years later #LukeStrong is still drawing the support of the community surrounding Blanock. He said that a lot of his support comes from some of the most important people in his life.
Some of his biggest supporters have been Rick Bell, his basketball coach, his girlfriend Natalie Britvich, and his parents.
Blanock said that he looks at Bell as a second father figure to him. And that Bell has always been there for him since the day of his diagnosis.
Upon Blanock’s initial diagnosis, Bell said he experienced a mixture of emotions ranging from complete devastation to anger. Bell says that the strength and positive emotions Blanock and his family have shown during his fight have been a huge inspiration to him and the community.
“Luke dealt with the potentiality of death better than most people deal with life,” Bell said.
Bell wears a yellow rubber-band bracelet that reads #LukeStrong everyday and says he will never take it off. He looks at that bracelet for some good feelings when he is having a bad day.
Blanock said that during his darkest times he can always count on his girlfriend, Britvich, to provide emotional help and to be someone who can get his mind off of everything.
Blanock said what he loves most about Britvich is that they can have a conversation about any and everything for hours.
Two other very important people who have helped Blanock during this difficult time are his mother and his father. Blanock says his mother helps support him emotionally while his father is the one talking to doctors and doing research on his cancer.
Outside of those four people Blanock said he also has three childhood friends that have supported him during his battle: Brad Folino, Tyler Dille and Alex Hammers.
When Blanock is feeling well he said he likes to go out to eat with the three at Eat N’ Park. He also likes staying up late with them playing video games. Blanock says what he will always remember having fun with them and sharing endless nights together filled with laughter.
It seemed as if Blanock was beating cancer until he received some crushing news.
Despite all the support and treatment on Dec. 5, 2015, exactly three years after his initial diagnosis, doctors told Blanock and his family that his cancer was spreading uncontrollably and that his condition was terminal.
Blanock selflessly waited a week to publicly announce his condition because his friends who are in college were dealing with the pressures of finals week.
“I didn’t want to be a jerk to them, so I waited until after finals week before revealing the news,” Blanock said.
This news had not only completely shocked Blanock’s closest friends and family, but devastated his #LukeStrong supporters.
With this news resting heavy on Blanock’s mind, he had the idea to propose to his girlfriend just days after his cancer was determined to be terminal. The idea of marriage was discussed at a sleepover Blanock and Britvich had just days after he made the grim announcement.
The official proposal came at North Strabane Park where the two frequently went to watch movies on a laptop in Blanock’s yellow Jeep Wrangler. Britvich said, “Yes,” and the two plan on getting married Feb. 19 at Blanock’s church, Saint Mary’s.
Blanock remains overwhelmed by the support he has received. He said at the tender age of 18 he has learned what is most important in life and what makes him happy.
While he does not know how long he has, and certainly has not given up, his prophecy about life is far beyond his years.
Blanock says that there is only one thing that has brought him happiness throughout his three-year-long battle, and he wants to share that message.
“Value the relationships you have with people in your life,” he said, “because that is what is going to bring you happiness.”