The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh men’s basketball team will hold its third-annual “Shooting it for Luke” fundraising event Saturday, Feb. 9, at its home game against UW-Stevens Point.
The “Shooting it for Luke” event is set for 5 p.m. at Kolf Sports Center. All proceeds from the night will go directly to the Families of Children with Cancer, a local organization that focuses support on individual children along with their families.
The event honors Luke Peters, a sophomore at St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Neenah, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor one week before his sixth birthday. Peters was adopted by the Titans men’s basketball team five years ago, when he was in fifth grade through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation (FOJ).
Senior forward Alex Van Dyke first met Peters the fall semester of his freshman year. Van Dyke was one of three freshman on the Titan men’s basketball team, and Peters had been adopted by UWO two years prior. The first meeting between the two included video games and a game of basketball. Not many knew at the time that—like Peters—Van Dyke also had survived childhood cancer.
Van Dyke was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) two weeks before his 14th birthday. He was in New Mexico visiting his grandmother when he noticed red dots over his shins and arms and a bruise on the inside of his bicep that quickly doubled in size. When the family returned to Wisconsin, tests showed he had low platelets. He was referred to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, where he was diagnosed with ALL.
“It was on Sept. 15 (2010) when I was diagnosed, which was very close to when basketball season was going to start,” Van Dyke said. “The first question I had for the doctor was ‘can I play basketball?’”
Van Dyke would not be able to play basketball during eighth grade as he started and progressed through five phases of treatment.
Although in remission eight days after treatment began, Van Dyke still needed to take steroids, undergo in-home chemotherapy for a month, followed by in-patient chemotherapy, a pill regimen that allowed him to go back to school part-time after eight months, and a total of 47 spinal taps—to inject chemotherapy into his spinal fluids.
His final phase of treatment was another pill regimen, but this time a different set of medicines every week. The treatment lasted for nearly two years.
“It was my mom and dad who helped me the most throughout my treatment,” Van Dyke said. “They pushed me to do everything I didn’t want to do to get better. Every time I didn’t want to do something, they took things away until I did and they forced me to get better faster.”
Van Dyke was back on the basketball court his freshman year of high school, making the junior varsity team. He went on to be a three-year varsity member at Union Grove High School.
Although back at school and back on the basketball court, his battle wasn’t without setbacks. Van Dyke was diagnosed with high blood pressure and diabetes during his sophomore year of high school and was told he was in liver failure the August before his junior year. The liver failure forced Van Dyke to stop taking the chemotherapy pills six months early, but that allowed his liver function to return to normal.
Despite the setbacks, Van Dyke flourished as a basketball player, even growing from 5’11 to 6’8 during high school. His talents caught the attention of then-Titan basketball coach Pat Juckem and landed him a spot on the roster.
Van Dyke has now been cancer free for eight years and sees his doctors once a year.
“My health is good,” Van Dyke said. “I am playing college basketball, so I guess I am doing pretty good.”
Raising awareness and funds
Raising awareness and funds during events such as “Shooting it for Luke” is especially important to both Peters and Van Dyke.
“I think events like this are extremely important,” Van Dyke said. “Everybody knows what cancer is, but not everyone has been touched by it or knows somebody who has been touched by it. Chemotherapy is extremely expensive, and research for chemo to find better cures is extremely expensive and needs to be funded.”
Peters echos Van Dyke sentiments.
“What Alex and I went through sucked, and it really helps that everybody comes out to ‘Shooting it for Luke’ and supports us.”
Van Dyke also is grateful that UW Oshkosh is willing—year-after-year—to put effort into this event.
“The fact that UW Oshkosh cares about something like this, something that has affected me, means a lot.”