The newlywed couple can only describe it as “the worst luck ever.”
Luke and Lindsey Belding are coming to terms with each receiving a rare leukemia diagnosis, completely unrelated to each other.
“Next to impossible,” said Lindsey Belding, describing the odds from her hospital bed in Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre.
“We’ve had friends try to run numbers, the doctors have tried to put it into words, but there’s really no way to put a number to it just because it’s so rare that two people would wind up with the same exact cancer.”
Luke Belding was born and raised in Sussex, southern New Brunswick. After moving stateside for university he met Lindsey, who is from Massachusetts, in 2013.
The two dated for several years, eventually making plans to move to Winnipeg. Luke would pursue his PhD studying climate change effects on sturgeon. Lindsey would start her career as a pharmacist.
Then came Luke’s cancer diagnosis.
“In January 2018, he was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” said Lindsey.
WATCH | Newlyweds deal with double diagnosis of rare cancer:
Luke was 27 when he received the news.
Disease more common in children, older people
“It’s the type of leukemia that messes with the immune cells in your body. It makes it so your body can’t effectively fight off the disease,” said Luke.
The couple said the cancer diagnosis was a shock, given that it normally presents in children under 15 or adults over 65.
“The doctors were all pretty vocal about that point,” said Luke. “They said, ‘It was pretty rare for someone like you to get this.'”
A stem cell donation from Luke’s brother gave him a fighting chance, and enough strength to tie the knot.
“We actually got married at the sanctuary here in the hospital after he had his first transplant, while he was recovering,” said Lindsey.
But Luke relapsed, and a second stem cell treatment from a separate donor was needed. Luckily, one was found. Luke recovered and was set to be discharged from the hospital on May 7, his 29th birthday.
That didn’t happen.
“Lindsey started to feel unwell,” said Luke.
‘It’s a freak chance’
Fever and a sore throat were enough of a concern that doctors decided to thoroughly examine her out of fear an illness could compromise Luke’s weakened immune system.
On May 13, Lindsey was diagnosed with the same B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia as her husband.
The two spent 24 hours together in the hospital before Luke was sent home and Lindsey was kept in the hospital to start her cancer treatments at 28 years old.
“We’ve had the worst luck ever,” said Lindsey.
Because of the pandemic, they haven’t been allowed to see each other since that day.
“It’s a freak chance,” said Lindsey, who says chalking the situation up to awful odds is really the only way to process it.
She started her chemotherapy earlier this week.
“Overall, I feel pretty good,” said Lindsey. “Some side-effects here and there, but all things considered I feel pretty fortunate that I’m not worse off.”
Both husband and wife admit that some days are tougher than others. Being unable to see family members from New Brunswick, or the U.S., given border restrictions because of COVID-19, has been extremely difficult.
But they do take comfort in Luke’s previous experience with treatments.
Fundraiser for health-care bills raised more than $40K
Despite not seeing each other, the two keep in contact “constantly” with text messages “all day every day,” and the occasional video chat.
“It’s a lot of emotional support and that’s what you need with this sort of thing. Just someone to be there with you even if it’s just sending smiley faces back and forth,” said Lindsey.
Since neither of them can work, Luke’s brother started fundraising online to help pay the bills, raising more than $40,000 over the last five days.
“It’s been a huge upswell of support for us,” said Luke.
Lindsey said she was humbled by the support.
“It puts a lot of our faith back in humanity, especially during a time when things are so uncertain for everyone,” she said.
With two more treatments to go for Lindsey, Luke said the best-case scenario is the two can be reunited in about a month. They are counting down the days when it may be possible to see each other.
“We’re taking it day by day,” said Lindsey. “One step at a time.”
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