How the Luedtke family is relying on faith, family, and friends to fight back against cancer
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Len Luedtke Jr. started having back pain in mid-September of this year. The pain got progressively worse. He was having trouble getting around, his gait was deliberate and slow, and he knew something was not right. A check in with a doctor was necessary.
He had an MRI and blood test conducted at the Marshfield Clinic, but all that showed up was some inflammation in his vertebrae. Physical therapy and a few visits to the chiropractor did nothing to improve his condition.
On two occasions Len was in such pain that he dropped to his knees unable to stand. Following the second such incident, Len returned to the Clinic to get further testing done.
A bone scan revealed that Len had inflamed kidneys. He received treatment, to which his kidneys responded positively. A bone marrow sample from Len’s hip was also taken, and the source of his back issues was found. Len had multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that forms inside bone marrow and can also cause bone destruction.
Len started chemotherapy shortly after the diagnosis and is now back at home. He wears a back brace 23 hours a day because the myeloma caused extensive damage to his back in the form of seven fractured vertebrae.
Multiple myeloma does not currently have a cure, but temporary remission is possible, and Len said he has been told he can live a long time with the disease.
“As far as how long they can put it in remission, I’m not sure,” Len said. “It’s changing all the time as it is with almost all types of cancer because of the research and the funding that is (done).”
Len said he feels positive about his prognosis because he is young, has good health care, and because new treatments are developing rapidly.
The Luedtkes are facing a frightening reality with positivity, faith, and the support of friends and family. Len and his wife Ali Luedtke said that they have many support systems. They highlighted in particular the Marshfield School District and Marshfield High School (MHS), where Len works as a math teacher and assistant football coach.
“It’s all been awesome. As far as from the students to the staff to the support staff to administration, it’s just really nice and encouraging to know you work with good people and a good organization. It makes handling things like this that much easier. I mean, they’re not (just) your colleagues. They’re your friends,” Len said.
Len’s family set up an online donation page (giveforward.com/fundraiser/xll6) to help with the medical expenses related to his treatment and modifications to the Luedtkes’ home to make him more comfortable, including a new bed, chair, and an air purification system to keep germs at bay.
The online donations are then transferred to the Len Luedtke Jr. Benefit Fund, which is established at Central City Credit Union in Marshfield. Over $20,000 has already been raised.
On Friday, Dec. 12, wristbands that say “Fighters Fight” and are engraved with Len’s initials will be sold for $5 in the commons area at MHS during the girls and boys basketball games against Stevens Point starting at 5:40 p.m. Proceeds will go to support the Luedtke family.
Len added that his family’s church, St. Peter’s Lutheran, has been a big part of their support system, referring to them as “an awesome church family.”
Len and Ali said that the support of MHS, the school district, their church, and the community has been a stabilizing force in a tumultuous time.
“When something like this happens and you can sit back and not be … completely wiped out is awesome,” Len said. “I’m 37 years old, and all of a sudden they tell you, ‘You’ve got cancer,’ and I’ve got four little kids. It’s a big deal.”
Ali added, “Another blessing is just to live in this medical community.”
Len’s sister set up a page for him on CaringBridge.org so that he could share his story, his day-to-day experiences, and his message of positivity online (caringbridge.org/visit/lenluedtkejr.). Over 15,000 people have visited his page, and Len enjoys sharing his experiences and hopes his story can help others.
“I just feel like we can do so much more than just get our family through this scenario. We can help out other families. I mean we are extremely blessed with a very strong positive family,” Len said. “But not everybody has that.”
Len hopes to participate in programs to help connect people battling cancer with the resources they need.
The game plan
The Luedtkes are “game plan people” as Ali says, and that makes sense. Ali was a teacher at Madison Elementary School and is currently a track and field coach at MHS in addition to running a household of four young children—ages 7, 6, 3, and 1—a job that requires a game plan. Game planning comes naturally to Len given his background as a coach and teacher.
Len and Ali said that they have made an effort to explain the situation to their children despite the fact that they are all young. The Luedtkes have had friends and family members survive cancer, and they use those examples to help their children understand the process they will go through.
“We’ve had a couple of talks about the process,” Ali said. “Process No. 1, we get daddy’s cancer to sleep. No. 2, we get his bones stronger. No. 3, we get his muscles stronger so he can be daddy again the way we remember.”
Ali said that her day-to-day life has changed significantly since Len’s diagnosis. Normally she handles a household of four children, but she is now also in the caregiver role for her husband. She said that while her new role has been an unexpected challenge, it has already gotten better as Len has regained some strength and stability in his back.
The Luedtkes’ positivity is what stands out more than anything when speaking with them. They talk about their blessings at every opportunity, never missing a chance to highlight the help they have received from others. Naturally they were shocked at the news of Len’s cancer, but Ali and Len do not dwell on the negative or spend time asking, “Why us?”
“The first goals was (to care for my) kidneys. We got that taken care of. The second goal (is) kill cancer. Third goal is to re-grow bone strength in my back, and then fourth goal is going to be to regain muscular strength,” Len said.
That sounds like a good game plan.
How you can help
To assist the Luedtke family with medical expenses, you may donate to the Len Luedtke Jr. Benefit Fund online by visiting giveforward.com/fundraiser/xll6.
You may also donate at any Central City Credit Union. Central City Credit Union cannot accept donations over the phone. The main Marshfield branch is located at 222 E. Upham St. You may also mail a check to Central City Credit Union—designate the Len Luedtke Jr. Benefit Fund in the memo line—to P.O. Box 790, Marshfield, WI, 54449.