WAVERLY — Tristin Laue was at the send-off ceremony last month for around 100 Iowa Army National Guard members now deployed to the Middle East.
It wasn’t how he planned it.
Laue was in the crowd watching the ceremony, not standing with his fellow soldiers, because he was diagnosed with a rare cancer late last year.
“That was a hard day. That was a weird day,” said Laue’s stepmother and caretaker Debbie Nichols. “That send-off was very emotional for him. For me, it was mixed.”
Nichols would have worried about Laue if he were deployed to a war zone. But his diagnosis of stage four fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma — a rare form of liver cancer — has caused a different kind of heartache.
Nichols said the Guard has been immensely helpful. Laue, 19, of Waverly, is still enlisted, though is expected to be discharged at the end of the year.
At the urging of Drill Sergeant Dan Wegner, the family decided to host a benefit to aid with Laue’s medical expenses. It started small, but has grown due to Laue’s father — Mitch Laue’s — connections to local bands.
Rachelle Hahn, an organizer and good friend of Nichols, said Laue is expected to be discharged from the Guard soon and will lose his health coverage. The family also looking into alternative treatments.
October is liver cancer awareness month. Though the timing is coincidental, Nichols said part of the idea of the benefit is to raise awareness about this rare disease.
Nichols said Laue joined the Guard because he wanted a change in circumstance and enjoyed the camaraderie of a unit. He was on leave after advanced individual training, where he learned the ins and outs of helicopter maintenance, over the Christmas holiday when he thought he had come down with pneumonia.
Instead, it was discovered he had a pulmonary embolism, or blood clots in his lungs. He was airlifted to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he has been having weekly treatments ever since. That included a surgery in July to remove tumors throughout his body, though more have been found.
The family took him to the hospital Dec. 30. He was diagnosed in February, though he earlier learned he likely had cancer, just not the type.
“It was quite a blow, because their family was going through a lot,” Hahn said.
Laue’s diagnosis came after Nichols’ daughter was in a snowmobile accident and Nichols’ had back surgery.
“It was almost surreal to have all of that going on at the same time, let alone having the blow that it’s … cancer,” Hahn said. “When you have something like that in your family, you live for the moment; you live with what’s going on in your life. … It’s hard to think of the big picture.”
After the benefit, Laue will return to Mayo on Oct. 17 to check whether his chemotherapy is working.
“Everybody is always amazed at how polite and respectful he is,” Nichols said. “That’s what makes me mad. He’s just such a good kid. And, it’s like where does this come from?”