Six months after the death of his son, Babe Laufenberg says in a sit-down interview with NBC 5 he's taking comfort in the inspiration others are drawing not only from the way his son lived but also in the way he died.
Luke Rapheal Laufenberg, the 21-year-old son of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and current color analyst Babe Laufenberg, died of cancer last August after a "two-year, hard-fought battle" with lymphoma.
Luke, who grew up in Argyle and attended Liberty Christian High School, was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, a rare but very aggressive form of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, at just 19-years-old.
The news came the day after Christmas 2017 and 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.
Shortly after his death, Luke's family said he, "fought his disease with extraordinary determination and was declared cancer free" after six months of treatment. 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 in 2018 of his cancer-free diagnosis. "So, it put it all into perspective, on the journey, and made me think a lot about what I went through."
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 that spring, however, confirmed the family's worst fears, that Luke's cancer had returned.
"July 12 we were told he was terminal,” said Babe Laufenberg. “He had relapsed on April 5 and we were treating him and July 12 they said, basically, 'That’s it. He has two to eight weeks to live.' So we came home that day and he just said one thing. He said, 'I just want everything to be the same, I don’t want anybody doing anything different.' And pretty much that’s the way it went.”
And that is the way Luke Laufenberg lived the next 41 days of his life until it came to an end on Aug. 22, 2019.
"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."
- Babe Laufenberg
Even after receiving his terminal diagnosis, which his family kept private, Luke and his resilient spirit joined his father at Dallas Cowboys Training Camp in Oxnard, California.
"He stayed in my room for the one night, and just knowing, man, this kid is over here, literally dying, and telling me he set the alarm for seven because he wants to work out at the fitness center at the hotel before we go to practice. I said, 'OK, let me know how that fitness center is and wake me up when you come back.' He was pretty amazing that way,” Babe recalled.
That fight is the fight that brought Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett to tears when he spoke of Luke's death during a media briefing at The Star that morning.
"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."
Garrett is a close friend of the Laufenbergs and made multiple trips, at all hours, to visit and spend time with Luke.
“All of a sudden, here comes Jason, 10 o'clock at night, 11 o'clock at night, popping into the room with his wife just to be there," Babe recalled. "I kept saying, 'Go home. You have work to do. You have to get up at five in the morning.' He just stayed in there and throughout he was visiting Luke and checking on him. He was a tremendous friend through all of this."
A tremendous friend.
Garrett was also the person who convinced Babe that he would be able to deliver his son's eulogy. Babe recalled the support from his friend the strength he pulled from his son while speaking at his memorial.
“He said, 'You can do this.' He said, 'You are the one who has to do it.' So he convinced me that I had to do it," Babe said at the memorial.
"I thought, 'OK. I’m going to do this and fight my way through this. I thought, if Luke fought through what he did, for basically 20 months, on and off, I can fight through 15 minutes up here.'"
Luke's fight impacted thousands around the country who now wear "Live. Like. Luke." bracelets as a reminder to live every day to the fullest and to make memories like the ones displayed throughout Babe Laufenberg’s Dallas home.
Laufenberg he's reminded every day by people who have been inspired by his son and his fight to not only beat cancer but to live each day completely.
“I get someone coming up to me virtually every day, people I don’t know, and they say Luke has inspired them," Babe said. "I don’t see silver linings in all of this, because I want him back, but it’s gratifying to see other people who are somehow inspired by the way he went about his life and, technically, the way he went about dying," Babe said.
Luke is survived by his father, Brandon "Babe" Laufenberg, his mother Joan Laufenberg and brother Joe Willie Laufenberg. The Laufenberg family has set up the Luke Laufenberg FIGHT Endowment Fund at The University of Texas at El Paso to provide aid to student athletes. To contribute to the fund, click here.