CANONSBURG, Pa. — A Canonsburg teen who was diagnosed with terminal cancer passed away Sunday after a long but courageous battle with the disease.
Luke Blanock’s strength inspired an entire community, and the hashtag “Luke Strong” is emblematic of a teen who bravely round against Ewing Sarcoma for three years, pushing through the struggle while playing basketball, undergoing dozens of chemotherapy treatments, and never showing his pain.
Blanock passed away on Sunday at just 19 years old, but the way he lived and how he interacted with others will live on.
Coach Rick Bell said Blanock was a person “always with a smile on his face, no matter how much pain he was in or what he was dealing with.”
Channel 11 has been following Blanock’s story since he was first diagnosed in 2013.
Earlier this year, Blanock married his high school girlfriend, Natalie Britvich, with the help of the community. He proposed to Britvich a month after learning from doctors that his cancer had spread and turned terminal. With no time to waste, the community donated almost everything for the Blanock wedding.
“He said, ‘I'm not marrying Natalie to make her a widow. I'm marrying Natalie to spend 50 years with her.’ And that’s great. That’s how it should be,” Luke’s grandmother Rosemary Nikas said.
When Blanock announced that his cancer had become terminal, the whole community rallied around him to be "Luke Strong."
This past June, the basketball star at Canon-McMillan High School received his diploma and applause from his fellow classmates, according to the school district’s Facebook page. At the elementary school where he attended as a child, students raised money for him. Despite his pain, Blanock showed up to thank the children personally and gave out 250 high-fives.
Tula Dziak, principal of Cecil Elementary, said the students have #lukestrong wristbands and T-shirts.
“He’s their superhero,” Dziak said.
During one of his last interviews with Channel 11, Blanock said he chose to live even when doctors said he was dying. Despite not being able to walk very well, he walked down the aisle to marry his true love, he walked to get his diploma with his class on graduation day, and – just on Saturday – he was still smiling in his hospital bed, remaining “Luke Strong” until the very end.
“I think he made us better than we made him, and that’s what he would want… not to ever forget that,” Bell said. “Smile, be nice, be selfless.”
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