Lucas White has two goals — to learn how to drive and to get a job. While that may seem typical for any young person, his goals are not easily achieved, because Lucas in 2016 was diagnosed at age 17 with anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare brain cancer that he said typically affects adults.
The cancer is something of a fluke of nature, Lucas’ mom, Valerie White said.
Lucas, 20, lives with family. His mom was involved with the treatment process and afterward helped her son decide how to move forward.
Anaplastic Astrocytoma, according to the University of California San Francisco Brain Tumor Center, is a rare and malignant brain cancer that arises from astrocytes, or cells that help support the nervous system.
“It was such a sucker punch. You can’t ever be prepared for that kind of news,” Valerie White said. “The doctor was even shocked when he showed us the MRI. When [Lucas] was born, he had a cyst in his brain but it disappeared, so we thought this is probably just the same. You’re not really believing it’s real. He handled it like a champ.”
Tumors of this nature put increased pressure on the brain causing headaches and even changes in mood or behavior. “I had supercharged emotions, because the tumor was in the emotion center of the brain, and the other thing was I was constantly tired,” Lucas said.
Lucas will attend regular appointments and observations over the next roughly six years. He’s on year two of an eight-year observation cycle with an oncologist.
Lucas, his mom and family relied on Audrain County Relay for Life to point them in the right direction when researching Lucas’ cancer. Lucas has appeared at previous Audrain County relays when he was still receiving treatments.
This year’s relay is Sept. 14 starting 4 p.m. at the Mexico downtown square. This is the fifth and final article in a series of interviews with cancer fighters and survivors ahead of this year’s relay.
The two roughly golf-ball sized tumors were removed Dec. 20, 2016. Lucas then went through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He was able to take chemotherapy in pill form rather than through an IV.
The tumors were discovered after a severe headache woke Lucas. The headache wouldn’t stop, and his behavior and speech started changing, which is when he was taken to the emergency room.
It would have been easy to assume, due to the tumor’s location, that Lucas was under the influence of a drug. His parents insisted to ER staff there was nothing in the house that would have caused this type of behavior. A brain scan later revealed the tumors.
“He’s been really very lucky because they were able to completely resect it, and he hasn’t had any regrowth at this point,” White said.
The tumor was located in the frontal and temporal lobe areas of Lucas’ brain, so he continues to experience emotional issues and depression, along with the fear his cancer could return. He now also receives counseling and therapy treatments for his mental health.
Lucas was resilient during his cancer treatment, still attending Mexico High School throughout the process.
The Mexico community came together at the time of Lucas’ diagnosis and supported him and his family financially to help cover medical bills. White said she still sees people now and again wearing “Team Lucas” T-shirts. One of the major fundraisers was a rifle raffle sponsored by Graf and Sons.
“The community has been wonderful in supporting us,” Valerie White said. “He’s had a lot of people check in on him and kept up with him.”
When he was still a student, Hart Career Center Computer Science Teacher Amy Harris hosted a local-area network, or LAN gaming party.
“The cancer journey right now is over because we’re not having to go through treatment, it’s just the follow-up on it. It’s trying to figure out what’s next to do in life,” Valerie White said
The biggest struggle for Lucas now is finding a job that will accommodate his needs. He is searching for a part-time job that doesn’t require constant standing and will allow him to take regular breaks since a minor case of cerebral palsy caused his legs to be slightly different lengths. “We’re going to do some walking to help build up stamina,” Valerie White said.
Lucas wants to be a video game beta tester, playing games that are still under production to make notes and suggestions for the developers before the game is officially released to the public.
“There was someone in town whose son was a beta tester for a company, so that is one of the things we need to research,” Valerie White said. “That’s what we’re exploring now.”
He also is exploring the idea of being a “Let’s Play” YouTuber, where he will post videos of him playing video games. Lucas got a chance to meet one of these YouTubers thanks to the Audrain County Dream Factory. He traveled to Atlanta where he met the YouTuber known as Chuggaconroy, or Emile Rodolfo Rosales-Birou, who has approximately 1.2 million followers.
“He was amazing,” Valerie White said. “[Dream Factory] arranged for Lucas to play for a couple hours and I think he ended up staying for like four or five hours. It ended up being an amazing experience for Lucas. He was on cloud nine.”
He played with Rosales-Birou recently after finishing a chemotherapy treatment, so he was more tired but excited.
“It was really cool,” Lucas said. “We hung out and played games. We talked about his friend’s YouTube channel and we talked about in-jokes throughout his series.”
Lucas currently is tackling games like the Fire Emblem series, fantasy role-playing games developed by Nintendo. There are multiple installments in the series with the earliest released in 1990 and the latest released this year.
“They just had two games release recently, so I’ve been playing through those and they are good, but my favorite game is a game on the Wii called Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s super complicated, but it feels familiar if you’ve played a Japanese role-playing game like Final Fantasy,” Lucas said.
He also will spend time with Tony Senor, Mexico High School social studies teacher, who also has a gaming YouTube channel dedicated to retro gaming on which Lucas has appeared while they search for games. “They go game hunting a lot,” Valerie White said. “They’ll go to Columbia and St. Louis. They’re really into collecting the older games.”
The first goal Lucas said he plans to tackle, though, is getting his drivers license before he can get a job and fully pursue his YouTube dreams. “So I’ll get a license and then figure out how to do it all,” he said.