Luke Rapheal Laufenberg, the 21-year-old son of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Babe Laufenberg, died of cancer early Thursday morning after a "two-year, hard-fought battle" with lymphoma, the family says.
A day after Christmas 2017, Luke, who grew up in Argyle and attended Liberty Christian High School, was 19 when he was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, a rare but very aggressive form of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The news came shortly after the end of his first season playing tight end for Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona; Luke spent his freshman year a red shirt at Texas A&M.
Luke's family said Thursday that upon hearing his diagnosis he, "typical of his spirit ... fought his disease with extraordinary determination and was declared cancer free" after six months of treatment -- that good news came on May 3, 2018, nine days before his 20th birthday.
"I did tell him when he was in the hospital, 'Listen, everything you're going through, I'm going through. When you have a good day, I have a good day. When you have a bad day, I have a bad day. Hopefully a lot of good days ahead of us," Babe told NBC 5 in June 2018.
With his cancer gone, Luke joined his father at a Dallas Cowboys minicamp practice June 2018 where he told NBC 5 it felt good to be out and watching the sport that he loved.
"Until you really hear it, you never know it's going to happen," Luke said of his cancer-free diagnosis. "So, it put it all into perspsective, on the journey, and made me think a lot about what I went through."
While at the minicamp practice, head coach Jason Garrett yelled for Luke to get on the field and join the team in some drills.
"I hear, 'Luke get out there, play corner.' I'm on the offensive side of the ball so I had to learn a little on-the-go but I think I did an alright job," Luke said.
The Laufenberg family said Thursday that in January of this year, after a year away from school, the University of Texas at El Paso awarded Luke a scholarship to play tight end for the Miners in the 2019 season.
A scan on April 5, however, confirmed that Luke's cancer had returned.
"With limited treatment options, he continued to fight valiantly," the family said. However on July 12, Luke was told his condition was terminal and that he had only a few weeks to live.
"He handled the news with a strength of character and sweet demeanor that will always inspire his family, friends, coaches, doctors and the treatment staff at Children’s Medical Center Dallas," the family said.
In a statement, Babe said Thursday:
"We lost a son, a brother, a friend, and a warrior. We have never seen a person battle like Luke, but he lost his fight with cancer. He was truly inspirational. The hole in our hearts will never be filled. You are my hero. RIP my sweet Luke. See you on the other side."
From The Star in Frisco, Garrett became very emotional when speaking about Luke, his spirit and strength, and his fight, often taking a few moments to pause between sentences.
"Luke was an amazing young man. You guys have heard me talk about "fight" a lot. I don't know that I've ever -- I don't know that I've ever seen a better example of that in my life. What he's gone through over the last couple of years, the spirit that he had, every day, to battle through it, to always be thoughtful about the people in his life. How's my mom doing? How's my dad doing? How's my brother doing? Amazing. You'd walk into the room and he'd just light up. Whatever was going on he just had this, this way, this strength, unlike I'd ever seen. Unlike I've ever seen in my life. It's such a tragedy. It's so hard to understand. But, I know I will, and anybody who ever knew him, will be forever inspired by the life that he lived."
Miners head coach Dana Dimel said Thursday, "Luke touched my heart and soul forever. His spirit and fight are a reminder to me of what it means to play and coach the game of football. As long as I am coaching, I will relay all the lessons that Luke taught me to the individual lives I will affect. He is forever a Miner!"
Luke is survived by his father, Brandon "Babe" Laufenberg, his mother Joan Laufenberg and brother Joe Willie Laufenberg. Funeral arrangements have not been made public.