Writer / Janet Striebel
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, every three minutes someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Put another way, 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with blood cancer, which is enough people to fill Lucas Oil Stadium 16 times.
“My son, Luke, is one of those numbers,” says Vicky Andritsch, who is running for 2017 Woman of the Year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).
Ten candidates within the Indianapolis chapter will compete to see who can raise the most money in 10 weeks. The campaign kicks off March 2 and ends on May 13.
“At first, the idea of running for LLS Woman of the Year was out of my comfort zone,” says Vicky, who admits she’d rather continue to help behind the scenes than be in any spotlight. “When I think about our past journey with Luke and how this campaign wraps up the same weekend as the anniversary of his diagnosis 10 years ago, I feel it’s a sign from God that I should do it.”
Luke was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at age three on Mother’s Day. He underwent chemotherapy every day for more than three years. Vicky admits that she’s put all these memories into a box of how he suffered with treatment, undergoing numerous, rare complications that left him extremely weak and exhausted.
“I want to make an impact to improve treatment options so that some other little boy or girl won’t have to go through what Luke did,” Vicky says. “I want to be able to look back after 10 weeks of this campaign and know that I have given everything I can. This is an opportunity for me to recognize the underlying support of LLS, which was a lifeline for myself and my family.”
Supporting LLS is nothing new to Vicky. She has volunteered with countless “Pennies for Patients” campaigns that are now active throughout all the HSE school districts, as well as participating in many “Light the Night” campaigns. She pours herself into Team in Training events and has participated in 22 triathlons and marathons over the course of the last 10 years to help raise money for LLS. When many think of LLS, they think of Vicky. Now, she is tackling the “King of Campaigns” — LLS Woman of the Year.
Anyone who knows Vicky realizes that she’s always giving everything she can. She’s the founder and director of Team Luke. This nonprofit organization, established in 2008, was formed to give back to a community who gave so much to her family members as they faced a very challenging time in their lives.
If you don’t know Vicky from LLS, then you may remember her from winning the 2013 Geist Mom of the Year contest.
She claims the fuel that drives her originates from Luke and how he is a true champion. As a mom, watching how Luke went through something with such grace, bravery and courage is what sparks her passion behind the campaign.
“Luke is an old soul in a young body,” Vicky says. “He has a story to tell and is most compassionate. He’s always pouring himself out to others.”
When Luke was 6 years old he had a dream:
“My dream is to work with Spiderman to find a cure for cancer,” Luke says. “Then me and Spiderman will web ourselves from hospital to hospital and pass out toys to all the sick children and make them all better. Then we will give all the kids the book “If You Give a Moose a Muffin”. When we are done doing this, there won’t be anymore sick kids.”
Today, Luke’s dream lives on. He’s now a strapping 13-year-old seventh-grader at Fall Creek Junior High School. He enjoys practicing karate, running cross-country, playing drums and helping others who are still walking that path.
In fact, Team Luke has teamed up with Bongo Boy School of Music to lead Drum Circles at Riley Children’s Hospital every two months. He also created Rhythm Pax, a canvas bag filled with percussion instruments and music-related items that patients and their families use to help them feel happy and help them heal.
“When he walks into the hospitals he is the light of hope for these families,” Vicky says. “He’s the light at the end of the tunnel because he shows them what it will be like on the other side.”
Since playing the bongos helped Luke when he was ill, he wanted to share this positive energy with others. Team Luke has delivered over 1,000 Rhythm Pax sets to Peyton Manning and Riley hospitals.
“When Luke finished his treatments he was so weak that it took him a year to recuperate,” Vicky recalls. “His first activity was taking karate lessons at age seven at Massey Martial Arts next to Mama Bears. They nursed him back to health. He could barely do a push-up or run a lap around the room. They have been wonderful with him. He’s now a third degree black belt.”
Vicky says her family is excited for her decision to help with this crusade. She has five children. Besides Luke, there is Jack (22), who graduated from Clemson University and lives in Montana. Grace (19), attends the University of Georgia. Audrey (16), is a sophomore at HSE high school. Ava (10), is a fourth-grader at Geist Elementary.
Though Vicky admits she’s still gathering her game plan for the campaign, she’s very confident that with her family beside her and her incredible team that has been with her since the beginning of Luke’s journey, together they’ll make a powerful impact.
Vicky is carrying out her mission not knowing any of the candidates, yet feels self-assured that the newfound friendships and support of LLS will be effective.
“It’s all about candidates coming together in our community to make something great happen,” Vicky says. “If we can make a dent with this disease and help improve treatments for future patients, then we’re all true winners together.”
In the time it took you to read this article, another person was diagnosed with a blood cancer. You can help make an impact right now. To make a donation, click here.