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From Germany with Love -Patient meets her Husband as an Exchange Student

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

From Germany with Love -Patient meets her Husband as an Exchange Student

In true fairy tale fashion, Anika MacDonald lives a love story that started some 20 years ago.

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

German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote: “I am with you, however far away you may be. You are next to me. The sun is setting. Soon the stars will shine upon me. If only you were here.”

For Anika MacDonald it was more than 4,000 miles that once separated her from the man she now calls her “soul mate.” She traveled that distance from her German homeland to Indiana as an exchange student. She enrolled in Fort Wayne’s South Side High School and completed her senior year joining a sea of green caps and gowns - one of about 300 students in the 2002 graduating class.

One of those students was Lucas MacDonald. He has a twin brother, Ben. They both are musically inclined – Lucas played saxophone in the school band; Ben played upright bass in orchestra. Lucas was a standout goalkeeper for the South Side High School Archers.

“We didn’t date in high school because we thought saying ‘good bye’ would be hard enough so we hung out as best friends,” Anika. “But then we just knew it – if you believe in soul mates we were it.”

After graduation, MacDonald returned to Berlin and the life she shared with her parents and older brother. She pursued a degree in physical therapy – all the while knowing something was missing from her life. Pulled by her heartstrings, for five years she traveled back and forth between Germany and the United States.

It was on a visit to Germany when Lucas and Anika took a bicycle tour through the forest district that they knew they were destined to be together forever. Sitting by the lake, Lucas asked Anika to be his bride.

“I said, ‘yes’ and then we carved our initials into a tree,” said Anika.

Fifteen years ago, surrounded by family members and friends, they were married in a park in Fort Wayne. Her physical therapy degree was not valid in the United States so Anika returned to college and became a physical therapy assistant. She practices in an outpatient clinic is Fort Wayne.

Lucas and his twin brother joined the Fort Wayne Police Department in 2007, where they work as homicide detectives. Lucas spent a decade as a negotiator on the department’s Crisis Response Team and both brothers continued their interest in music – playing bagpipes on the Fort Wayne Police Department’s Pipe and Drum Team.

Life was good for the MacDonalds. They had their first child, Noah, 12 years ago. Then came Alexandria, 9, and Max, 6. Anika was pregnant with Max when she became a U.S. citizen.

“The first year being so far away from my family was the hardest,” said Anika. “I tell people that when you’re young and in love you make decisions quickly.” She still gets homesick but typically sees her family twice a year. On several occasions they have taken their children to visit Anika’s home. They have visited the Berlin Wall where Anika has shared the history of the Cold War, and they have become fond of German candy.

The family spends an average of six days a week at the local ice rink where both of the boys play hockey and their daughter figure skates. Lucas and his brother also play hockey for the Fort Wayne Freeze, a competitive ice hockey team made up of local law enforcement officers.

It was during a hockey tournament that Anika felt such excruciating back pain that she knew something was wrong.

“At first I thought I’d tweaked something at work lifting,” she said. She went to a walk-in clinic twice. Tests were ordered to check for a bulging disc, she was prescribed muscle relaxers and physical therapy. The pain came and went. Some days were worse than others.

A week after the couple celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary; blood tests confirmed that Anika had cancer. It was March 18th when she first learned about Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

After completing three cycles of chemotherapy at a hospital in Fort Wayne, she came to IU Health April 20. In the care of Dr. Sherif Farag she received a stem cell transplant on June 17.

Shortly before his wife’s transplant, Lucas’s co-workers and members of the Fort Wayne Freeze hosted a hockey game as a benefit for the couple.

In a media story on Wane.com Lucas said: “I’ve been part of helping with these benefit events before, and it maybe doesn’t hit home much, but now that I am at the receiving end of it, you kind of realize what it means to those people who are going through it. Sometimes when you are doing the stuff, you’re like ‘oh I have no problem helping.’ But now that I am receiving it, it really opens the door and sheds the light on what it means to the people that receive it. Money aside and all of that stuff aside, just the support.”

He described the high school sweetheart who became his wife as: “The most amazing woman.”

Since diagnosis, Anika’s mom received special permission from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin to come to the United States to help care for he daughter. She stayed for nine weeks.

As she waits in her hospital room for discharge, Anika relies on Face Time to stay connected with her children. She says: “So far things are looking good. I’ve been so happy with the care I’ve received. They help get my pain under control and at IU Health I don’t feel like I’m just a number.”

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Leukemia

A cancer of the blood caused by the bone marrow producing abnormal white blood cells that crowd out healthy ones.