Kathy Heicher
kheicher@eaglevalleyenterprise.com
Gypsum, CO Colorado

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November 13, 2008
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Gypsum man fights cancer, counts blessings

GYPSUM, Colorado "-Nick Luchycky, 33, of Gypsum, Colorado got a crash course in life last spring.

Over the course of the preceding winter and spring Luchycky, who works as a land surveyor, had noticed he was losing weight and was out of breath. An athletic man, Luchycky attributed those changes to his regular exercise workouts and a demanding work schedule.

Last winter's heavy snows were tough for surveyors. Luchycky needed to shovel a lot of snow before he could set up his survey instruments for each job.

Then the night sweats started. A couple of times a week, Luchycky would wake up at 4 a.m., drenched in sweat.

In early May, he made a trip to Japan to visit a brother. The symptoms intensified. Still, he was inclined to just muster through what he assumed was a temporary condition.

Luchycky's boss, Ted Archibeque of Archibeque Land Services, says his employees noticed that Luchycky, a survey "party chief," was noticeably thinner after the trip to Japan.

"We told him he was getting too skinny ... that he was going to blow away," Archibeque recalls. Luchycky still insisted that he "felt fine."

On Memorial Day weekend, at a barbecue where he and long-time friend Mike Reynolds, of Grand Junction, were celebrating their birthdays, Luchycky's friends expressed shock at his weight loss and weakness.

"Then I saw a picture of myself, and I knew I didn't look right," Luchycky says.

He made a doctors appointment on a Wednesday. Two days later, he was in transit to Denver where he was admitted to University Hospital for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He's been either in the hospital, or near it, since that time.

Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow that affects the body's ability to produce white blood cells.

Luchycky had never been hospitalized before. Suddenly he was faced with a bewildering load of paper work, insurance forms, reading material, doctor's appointments and blood tests.

The chemotherapy started on his second day at the hospital. He met with psychologists and social workers, and juggled his medical business along with dozens of phone calls from well-wishers. Luchycky suddenly realized that he had never made a will " not unusual for a 33 year old single guy.

"In that first week, I didn't know if I had two weeks, two years, or 20 years," Luchycky says.

He realized quickly that he had to come to grips with the situation. "I think I've accepted this whole situation well. In the end, this is a good life, even if I'm cut short a little bit. But I do have a good life yet to live, too. That motivated me," he says

Treatment for Luchycky's leukemia basically involves destruction of the cancer cells through chemotherapy, then replacement of the bone marrow and rebuilding of the immune system through a stem cell transplant.

Luchycky's first stay in the hospital was a little over a month. That initial treatment put his cancer into remission. Since that time he has continued on a regular chemotherapy program. He's not always in the hospital, but does have to remain close by for blood tests and treatments.

The schedule varies: four days in the hospital, three days out; or perhaps a 10-day or two-week break, then another month of treatment. Doctors constantly monitor him for fever and chest pains.

On Tuesday, he'll begin preparing for the stem cell transplant.

"They'll microwave me for 20-30 minutes," says Luchycky, referring to the radiation treatments. One final dose of chemotherapy will void his own marrow system. Then the new marrow, made from the stem cells, will be introduced intravenously, so his new bone marrow system can start growing.

Then he will be on a three-week course of drugs to boost his immue system.

There's been some bumps in the road. One time, he made himself very sick following chemotherapy by getting too aggressive when brushing his teeth. And there's been some kidney problem, not unusual with chemotherapy. A colon problem was treated with an 11-day fast.

"I really can't complain much ... this has been much more easy than I expected," he says.

His prognosis is good. The form of leukemia that Luchycky suffers from is treatable, and responds well to chemotherapy.

"I do feel lucky ... there are plenty of people in that hospital I wouldn't trade places with. I feel blessed for that," he says.

Archibeque says he's not surprised by his employee's upbeat approach to dealing with the illness.

"Nick has one of the most positive attitudes I've ever encountered, even before he was diagnosed. It's hard to find him in a bad mood," Archibeque says.

While he's dealing with his illness, Luchycky has been taking some classes through Metro State College that will apply to his survey license.

Help from his friends

A 1993 graduate of Eagle Valley High School, Luchycky has a big family (he's the youngest of five siblings) and a close group of friends who rally around him.

"He's good at everything," says fellow Eagle Valley graduate Jarrod Reynolds, Luchycky's best friend.

Luchycky was a three-sport high school athlete, playing running back for the football team, starting on the varsity basketball team, and was, Reynolds says, a "really good third baseman" on the baseball team.

Luchycky, a self-described "musical enthusiast," has spent some of his down time practicing the guitar. In fact, while on the Front Range, he also took a class and actually built his own guitar.

"He plays guitar for all the nurses. They really like him there," says Reynolds.

Luchycky has health insurance. But his friends say he hasn't been able to work since last May, and probably won't be done with his treatment until next June.

He'll be isolated while undergoing the bone marrow transplant.

"He has a mortgage to pay, and other bills," says Mary Lou Yeik, who is organizing a fundraiser for Luchycky in Eagle on Saturday.

The response to the "You Know You're a RedNick" event has been enthusiastic. The raffle tickets have already been sold out at $100 a piece.

A 1993 graduate of Eagle Valley High School, Luchycky has a big family (he's the youngest of five siblings) and a close group of friends who rally around him.

"He's good at everything," says fellow Eagle Valley graduate Jarrod Reynolds, Luchycky's best friend.

Luchycky was a three-sport high school athlete, playing running back for the football team, starting on the varsity basketball team, and was, Reynolds says, a "really good third baseman" on the baseball team.

Luchycky, a self-described "musical enthusiast," has spent some of his down time practicing the guitar. In fact, while on the Front Range, he also took a class and actually built his own guitar.

"He plays guitar for all the nurses. They really like him there," says Reynolds.

Luchycky has health insurance. But his friends say he hasn't been able to work since last May, and probably won't be done with his treatment until next June.

He'll be isolated while undergoing the bone marrow transplant.

"He has a mortgage to pay, and other bills," says Mary Lou Yeik, who is organizing a fundraiser for Luchycky in Eagle on Saturday.

The response to the "You Know You're a RedNick" event has been enthusiastic. The raffle tickets have already been sold out at $100 a piece.


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The VailDaily Updated Nov 13, 2008 08:02PM Published Nov 13, 2008 08:02PM Copyright 2008 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.