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Cancer patient, 28: ‘People say 2020 has been bad, but for me it’s a blessing’

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Cancer patient, 28: ‘People say 2020 has been bad, but for me it’s a blessing’

He’s young, launching his professional career and he’s facing the challenges of a cancer diagnosis. But Luke Baumgardner is only focusing on the positive.

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

First there was the fact that the cancer was discovered when he was injured at a company outing. Then there is the fact that he became the patient of IU Health Dr. Sara Grethlein.

“When I went looking for an oncologist Dr. Grethlein happened to be available. When I told people about her, they had heard of her and knew she was a pretty big deal. She’s the best,” said Baumgardner. As he talks in his infusion pod at IU Health Simon Cancer Center, nurse Charity Jamison readies Baumgardner for the treatment he receives every four weeks. On this day he is celebrating remission.

It was September 2018, when Baumgardner joined his coworkers for a corporate challenge that included an obstacle course, volleyball, and dodge ball. During the event he landed hard on his leg and immediately felt sharp pain.

“As a millennial I thought I’d take some medicine and get through it,” said Baumgardner, 28. Eventually, he started running again and the pain returned with vengeance. By March, he made an appointment to see a specialist. An x-ray followed and the practitioner asked Baumgardner if he’d ever broken his pelvis. He hadn’t so an MRI was ordered for a closer examination. That’s when a tumor was discovered on Baumgardner’s pelvis.

“They said I could have lived another 20 years and not known I’d had it. It could have remained dormant. It was rare that I had it had it at this age,” said Baumgardner. What he had was chondrosarcoma, a cancer of the bones and joints. It is a rare cancer that accounts for about 20 percent of bone tumors and is diagnosed in approximately 600 patients in the US each year.

Surgery followed and the tumor was biopsied. “My surgeon said it was more severe than they anticipated. A fragment inside of the tumor - the size of a grain of sand -showed more malignant tumors. They wanted me to see an oncologist,” said Baumgardner. That’s when he became a patient of Dr. Grethlein. At the time he worked for a medical insurance company and was familiar with research. He has since changed jobs and works as a consumer credit examiner.

Dr. Grethlein suggested he begin chemotherapy to fight off the tumors. After three cycles he was in remission but returned every three months for scans, making sure the cancer was not spreading. The chemotherapy held it at bay until this year when a scan showed the cancer had spread to his lungs and pelvis.

“When I was re-diagnosed I was facing a two-year life expectancy. There was no real solution to ridding my body of the cancer so Dr. Grethlein suggested immune therapy. It was a different approach with few side effects,” said Baumgardner. He started the treatment in January of 2020 and recently learned he is in remission.

“People say 2020 has been bad but for me it’s been a blessing. God has blessed me countless times,” said Baumgardner. Not only has he avoided side effects, but when insurance denied his treatments, the manufacturer, provided the therapy without charge.

The eldest of six children, Baumgardner is the son of Ali Arias and Osman Fernandez. He grew up in Avon and attended Ben Davis accelerated school. By the time he graduated from high school, he was classified as a junior in college. He completed his business administration degree at Indiana Wesleyan University and recently obtained his masters in business administration.

“My instructors thought I was crazy because I was the student who never wanted to miss class. Even after surgery I showed up to class on crutches,” said Baumgardner. Throughout his adult life he said he’s always been driven to achieve a better education and to become successful in his profession. He started working at McDonalds as a teen.

“As a young kid they told me I was a 40-year-old man in 14-year-old body. I always felt responsible for my future,” said Baumgardner. One of his biggest accomplishments has been purchasing his first home.

“I’ve always tried to be cheery, no matter what the outcome and remain positive no matter what the news is,” said Baumgardner. “Even when the news is bad, I’ve been blessed over and over. I tell my parents that regardless of what happens, when it’s my time, I’m ok. It’s God’s decision and I’ve had a great life.”

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