IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Bumps on his head, chest led to diagnosis for 20-year-old patient

Patient Story

He first thought he banged his head but when the bumps didn’t go away Denver Laub knew he needed to see his physician.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

How odd he thought it was when Denver Laub started getting bumps – first on his head then his chest.

“At first I thought I banged my head but then I got more and they got bigger,” said Laub who turned 20 in November. “In May I got a sinus infection. I get one every spring but I was just getting more and more tired.” Toward the end of summer he told his dad he needed to go to the doctor.

Laub is number five of seven children of Cathy and Bruce Laub of Spencerville, Ind. - often called the “smallest city in Indiana.” Located on the St. Joe River in DeKalb County, Spencerville is also home to a covered bridge that dates back to 1873.

For seven years, Laub was the baby of the family. His younger brother is 13 the eldest is 28. The family has always been close. Cathy Laub homeschooled the children until Denver was in the sixth grade.

“It was a way to keep the family cohesive,” said Cathy Laub. The family lives on a 1,200-acre farm where they raise about 9,000 pigs at a time. “It was hard to get them all to dinner at the same time but we made an effort to gather around our large kitchen table. When one swam at the Y they all swam at the Y.”

The Laubs enjoyed pots filled with spaghetti and macaroni and lots of burgers on the grill – most of the meat and some of their canned vegetables and fruits came from the farm.

Laub went on to graduate from Woodlan Junior/Senior High School in Woodburn, Ind, where he was a member of the FFA. He also ran a little track, played a little soccer and participated in 4-H. He was a member of the Class of 2019 but graduated in early in December. He spent his junior and senior years pursuing his real passion – working half days on the family farm.

“I love driving the tractor. I love planting corn and soybeans and some wheat. I am sort of my own boss because I have a lot of freedom. That’s what I enjoy the most,” said Laub. He also enjoys coon hunting and his mom adds that he likes hanging out with his buddies at their farm shops. And like many 20-year-old men, his pride and joy is his 2010 SS silver Camaro with black stripes.

After graduation his life was on track to pursue a career in farming.

First there were the blood tests in July. His counts were normal. But a nurse practitioner suggested a biopsy of the bump on his head. A small scar still shows the beginning of what would result in a diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) – a diagnosis that took several institutions to detect. AML is a blood cancer that affects the white blood cells and platelets. It is typically detected when the white blood cell count is higher or lower than normal but the cells that are being produced do not function at capacity.

“His presentation was different. It was not easily detected and his doctors said, ‘you want to know the exact type of leukemia to be able to treat it.’ Normally white blood cells overproduce and crowd out space for red blood cells but Denver’s white blood cells would go outside the red blood cells and attach to different parts of his body. They were immature and not developed,” said his mom.

In September and November Laub completed chemotherapy and this month under the care of IU Health Dr. Jennifer E. Schwartz, he received a stem cell transplant. His donor was his sister Katie Laub, 22.

“We’re hopeful this works,” said his mom. “He’s ready to get back on the farm and work and he wants to get his appetite back.” His favorite foods will be waiting for him – pizza and his mom’s famous white cake layered with fruit and pudding frosting.

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