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May 7, 2013

'I Love Lucy' volleyball tournament in honor of teen cancer patient Lucy Loch

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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Hadi Sawaf, one of the doctors at the Meade Pediatric Hematology Oncology Unit at the Van Elslander Cancer Center, shares a laugh with teen cancer patient Lucy Loch, whose courage and positive spirit have inspired many other kids undergoing treatment there.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — During his long career in law enforcement, Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety Department Captain David Loch has squared off against some pretty dangerous criminals.

But nothing has terrified him as much as the four words he heard in a doctor’s office this February: Your daughter has cancer.

Loch and his wife, Katie, a nurse at Harper Hospital, learned that their seemingly healthy 14-year-old daughter, Lucy, had Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma after taking Lucy to the doctor to investigate a lump underneath her arm that was causing her pain and preventing her from raising that arm. What was initially thought to be a virus wasn’t responding to antibiotics and was steadily getting worse, and the teenager had recently lost 10 pounds. The Mayo Clinic’s website says that Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system — part of the immune system — that can compromise the body’s ability to battle infection as lymphatic system cells grow abnormally and, in some cases, spread outside of the lymphatic system.

“That was far scarier than anything I’ve ever dealt with (as a police officer),” said Loch from the family’s home in Grosse Pointe Woods.

But out of devastating news has come a remarkable demonstration of love and support from family, friends and the community in general, along with a show of composure and maturity from Lucy, made all the more stunning by her youth.

“We’re very proud of Lucy,” Katie Loch said. And, in a statement that could scarcely be expected to be coming from a parent of a child with cancer, she declared, “It’s been a good experience, really, for the most part.”

To understand that observation is to understand the Lochs, a close-knit family grounded by their Catholic faith. Lucy Loch is the middle daughter in a family of four children. At 16, John is the oldest, followed by Lucy, brother Peter, 12, and Clare, 10.

“It’s very overwhelming at first,” Katie Loch acknowledged of Lucy’s diagnosis. “Your friends and your family and your faith really get you through something like this.”

They’ve learned to live by Lucy Loch’s words of wisdom to other families experiencing the same news: “Just have hope.”

And hope is exactly what Lucy Loch is trying to give other young cancer patients. She’s been undergoing cancer treatments since February at the Meade Pediatric Hematology Oncology Unit at the Van Elslander Cancer Center, part of the St. John Hospital and Medical Center campus in Grosse Pointe Woods. Funds raised by an upcoming volleyball tournament in her honor will be donated to pay for cancer treatment for other children at Meade.

Lucy Loch has been playing volleyball since fifth grade with a group of girls who’ve become close friends over the years, and she’s now a member of the Omni Volleyball Club. When club members learned about their teammate’s diagnosis, they offered to host a fundraiser to help with her medical expenses. But Lucy and her family asked that the money be donated to the Meade Pediatric Hematology Oncology Unit instead.

“I’m really fortunate that my parents have good insurance,” Lucy Loch said. “I wanted to give back to those kids who are less fortunate.”

From 4-9 p.m. May 15, the Omni Volleyball Club is hosting the “I Love Lucy” Volleyball Tournament at Brownell Middle School in Grosse Pointe Farms. Kristen LaMagno, wife of volleyball coach Joseph LaMagno, has been organizing the tournament and scheduling teams. At press time, she already had at least eight youth teams and four adult teams registered for the event, which will also feature refreshments and a silent raffle with prizes donated by local residents and businesses, including restaurant gift certificates, fine jewelry, gift baskets and tickets to professional sporting events and the upcoming Jimmy Buffet concert. David Loch said people are welcome to play or just come and watch, and donations will be accepted at the door.

“We’d like to see as many people as possible,” Kristen LaMagno said. “It’s all about raising money for kids with cancer. I can’t think of a better cause.”

LaMagno isn’t surprised the fundraiser has drawn such widespread support.

“A lot of people in the community know the Lochs,” she said. “They’re just a very genuine, kind family.”

Nowhere is that more evident than in Lucy Loch, herself.

“She is just so sweet and friendly, and she doesn’t ever complain,” LaMagno said. “She’s just as cheerful as can be … and just a great kid all around.”

Aside from the scarf covering her head, Lucy Loch looks like a typical teen — her sunny smile giving no hint as to what she’s endured over the last few months. She’s composed for someone in her circumstances, talking about a tumor in her chest the size of a softball as matter-of-factly as if she were discussing a sprained wrist. She’s already undergone four rounds of chemotherapy — to which she appears to be responding well — and is expected to go through at least two more.

“Her prognosis is very good,” said Dr. Hadi Sawaf, director of pediatric hematology oncology at the Meade Pediatric Hematology Oncology Unit. Sawaf and Dr. Adonis Lorenzana have been treating the teenager.

The Lochs praise the care Lucy has gotten at the center, only minutes from their home.

“It’s like a family,” said Katie Loch, who, as a medical professional herself, carefully researched their options. “You can call them whenever you need anything.”

While it’s an intimate setting, Katie Loch said the Meade Pediatric Hematology Oncology Unit follows many of the same protocols for the treatment of cancer in children that have been developed by the nationally renowned St. Jude Children’s Hospital and are followed by the Children’s Hospital of Michigan-Detroit Medical Center and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.

“We are just fortunate to have them here,” David Loch said of the center, where Lucy spends at least part of almost every day getting some sort of screening, test or treatment. “They have just been wonderful.”

The staff at Meade say the same thing about the Loch family, and Lucy in particular.

“She is such a pleasant young lady,” Sawaf said. “She has a lot of courage, and she is resilient. Her courage and strength radiate outward. She (has been) able to inspire other children undergoing chemotherapy (in the unit).”

Katie Loch said her daughter has made several “chemo friends,” and Lucy has put together gift baskets to cheer up fellow patients.

“The kids bond very quickly,” David Loch said.

Lucy has left a lasting impression on patients and the medical staff, alike.

“Being a teenager is a tough thing,” Sawaf said. “Being a teenager undergoing chemotherapy is (especially) hard. Being positive (under these circumstances) says something about her character.”

A straight-A student and National Honor Society member who has been working with a tutor to keep up with her studies while she undergoes cancer treatment, Lucy Loch is looking forward to starting high school next year.

“I really like school,” she said, expressing a particular interest in reading and art. She said she thinks she might want to be a teacher or a nurse one day.

“She’s a good kid,” Katie Loch said. “She’s taught me a lot about courage. I think that’s one of the reasons she’s doing as well as she is — because of her positive attitude.”

Although much work still needs to be done, there have been strides in cancer research and treatment.

“It’s terrible when a child faces a serious disease, but the good news is that they usually do very well,” Sawaf said of child cancer patients. “The cure rate is very high.”

Like their spirited daughter, the rest of the family has managed to stay upbeat.

Katie Loch said they’ve been moved by the outpouring of support from the community — everything from people bringing over meals and prayer blankets to Masses being said for Lucy and people keeping her on prayer lists. The Lochs are parishioners at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Farms.

“We have seen so many blessings in our lives,” Katie Loch said, saying that this experience has strengthened not only their religious faith, but also their faith in the inherent goodness of humanity. “It’s humbling and it’s very touching.”

David Loch’s professional life means that he’s often dealing with people of questionable character, but like his wife, he’s been uplifted by the response to his daughter’s diagnosis.

“In a way, it has been an amazing journey that we’ve been on with her,” he said.

Anyone interested in assembling a team for the volleyball tournament or donating an item for the silent raffle should contact Kristen LaMagno as soon as possible at joseph.lamagno@yahoo.com or at (313) 204-1351. Checks should be made payable to the Meade Pediatric Hematology Oncology Unit, and donations will also be accepted at the door. Brownell Middle School is located at 260 Chalfonte.