Lukas Voelz, whose extended family come from Tripoli and Thessaloniki, is a leukemia warrior — and he would like your help to find better treatment that is geared to children who are battling the disease.
His mother, Nicole, is of Greek descent, and she still has extended family in Greece. She married her husband Jeff in 2012 at her church, Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church in Westchester, Illinois. They had a son Jakob 6 1/2 years ago, who Nicole describes as “the sweetest, most helpful, loving, caring, person you will ever meet,” in an exclusive interview with Greek Reporter.
Then the young couple were blessed with another son, Lukas, almost four years ago. But their idyllic life took a turn when Lukas was 21 months old. In March of 2019 Nicole and Jeff noticed some red marks on Lukas’ neck.
“We went to the pediatrician who recommended that we do blood work. Later that evening we got the call that something was off in his bloodwork and that we needed to come back to the hospital,” Nicole says.
Their tiny son was then diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. “Our world came to a halt at that moment and will be forever changed. The treatment plan consists of several different types of toxic chemotherapy drugs for 3.5 years,” Nicole explains.
“My husband and I have large, loving, and close families,” Nicole states. “Being raised in a Greek Orthodox family (my mom is Greek and my father is Italian but we were raised GO), family was the center of our world. My mom comes from a ‘Big Greek Family’ with six siblings.”
Nicole teaches 5th/6th grade English Language Learners. “Before we had kids, my husband and I loved to travel and we wanted to show our kids the world, new experiences, and take them back to where their families immigrated from,” she tells Greek Reporter. “Since having a child with a medical condition and a compromised immune system, traveling has been put on the back burner.”
Leukemia warrior has one entire year of treatment left
Lukas is scheduled to finish treatment in May of 2022. “He is doing very well. Some months are harder than others, but for the most part he has handled the treatments like a champ. His prognosis is very good. ALL has a 95% cure rate but a really long road to get to that cure rate after five years being cancer-free,” his mother explains.
Lukas had to undergo not just a bone marrow biopsy but also a spinal tap to determine the type of leukemia he suffered from. The little warrior then underwent surgery to place a port in his chest which will be used to provide chemotherapy treatments at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, for the next 3.5 years.
His proud mother relates “Our almost 4-year-old Lukas is strong, brave, and a fighter! We know he will beat this and go on to do great things in life.
“Lukas is the most remarkable little boy that you will ever come across. He is always running around with his brother Jakob, laughing, giggling, eating, and playing like normal. Nothing can hold him back!
The indomitable little boy “wears a smile on his face each and every day,” Nicole tells Greek Reporter. “He has never met anyone he doesn’t like and loves an audience to watch him do silly things. He loves hard and gives the greatest monster hugs he can. He is the happiest kid I know.”
During this incredibly difficult journey of their tiny leukemia warrior, Nicole says, her tiny son “has taught us all what the meaning of perseverance is, how to overcome challenges, and how to be a happy person in the face of adversity. He is the most amazing person that I have ever met.
“In awe of his strength”
“I am in awe of his strength each day — even though he feels terrible, you would never know it.”
Now Lukas would like your help in finding a better treatment for the leukemia that has ravaged his body.
“These kids are getting the same types of treatments and chemo that adults get,” his mother explains to Greek Reporter. “They are harsh and very toxic. We need to do better for the kids. Pediatric cancer, especially leukemia, has not had a new drug approved in over 40 years.
Part of the foundation she and Jeff created, “Childhood Cancer Warriors,” will raise money for pediatric cancer research, she adds. “We also want to focus on supporting the family during and after their cancer journey. We have been so lucky to have an army supporting us, but a lot of people do not and we want to be there for them.
“We have been so fortunate to be surrounded by so much love, prayers, and giving that we decided to start our own pediatric cancer foundation to give back to all the new families that are starting in the same place we were at,” Nicole relates.
“We want to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and how little funding there is for kids in the United States. Only 4% of the NCI budget goes to kids while the rest goes to adults.”
Lukas wants to be a train conductor when he grows up. For now, his big brother is the one who makes him laugh the hardest and who he wants to be with at all times. “Those brothers have the most special bond imaginable,” Nicole tells Greek Reporter. “Jakob cares for Lukas like he is his son, and you can see how much Lukas looks up to him as his idol.
“Jakob is the best big brother. Before the coronavirus, he went to every clinic appointment with Lukas. Held his hand and told him not to be scared when they were accessing his port.
“He would crawl in bed with him and lay with him while he was getting his chemo,” his mother adds in awe.
“He never makes a fuss if we cannot do something and if Lukas is not feeling good he will sit next to him. Lately, he told his younger brother, ‘Lukas, I will switch with you and take your cancer from you, and you can be me and healthy so you know what it feels like.’ That is the kind of brother Jakob is. There is no one like him out there. He is amazing!”
The small family is coping as well as they possibly can with Lukas’ illness, as they are surrounded with what Nicole calls “an army of supporters.”
She says that “Being raised in a Greek Orthodox family and being involved in the church community was very important to me and to my family. I spent several years teaching at a Greek Orthodox — Koraes Elementary School in Palos Hills, Illinois.
“I have been fortunate enough to have visited Greece and see the roots of my family. It was a wonderful experience and I wanted to be able to do that for my kids. One of our dreams and wishes for our kids is to be able to take them to Greece.”
If you would like to support the family and help foster research into new kinds of treatment of childhood leukemia, please visit the family’s Facebook page, here, or their web site, here. Those who live close enough can also send a birthday card to Lukas, whose big day is on May 30, to show their support for the tiny warrior’s battle with leukemia.