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P.J. Lukac Goes Against the Odds
P.J. Lukac Goes Against the Odds PhotoBy Lisa Moss

What started as a few simple partial seizures turned out to be an aggressive brain tumor for P.J. Lukac. He quickly underwent brain surgery and learned the devastating news that it was a malignant glioblastoma: a difficult to treat tumor that came with a poor prognosis. As a 23-year-old medical student, he had a keen understanding of what this diagnosis entailed. After processing what this would mean for his future, P.J. made the very conscious decision to beat cancer, not just for himself, but for everyone. He went through chemotherapy and radiation treatments and began his commitment to bringing public awareness to brain tumors through press coverage and fundraising and started working in a research lab studying glioblastomas. When asked how he was able to take his experience and turn it into something positive, P.J. said, "I took my condition into consideration and this is a horrible, horrible experience I would never want anyone else to have to go through."

P.J. set aside everything negative he knew about glioblastomas and instead of being crushed by the weight of what this could mean, he decided to make a difference. It wasn't long after surgery before he began forming a team in the American Brain Tumor Association Path to Progress Walk / Run to raise awareness and research funding. As a strong advocate with close connections to his friends and family, Team Peej was born. He took his mission of fundraising seriously, setting his team's goal at $25,000. In keeping with PJ's astounding resolve, Team Peej blasted past the $25,000 goal and raised an amazing $60,000 for brain research, becoming one of the top fundraising teams.

P.J. knew he wouldn't be going back to school right away and decided to look into working at a lab researching brain tumors. He earned a grant from the American Brain Tumor Association and began working as an assistant researcher at Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute research program with Dr. Markus Bredel. Working with P.J. gave Dr. Bredel and the researchers in the lab a unique perspective: as PJ said, "I put a face to what they are working on every day." P.J. was working on research that could save his own life and his colleagues had the benefit of knowing first-hand who they were helping. Traditionally there has been a wall between researchers and the patients they will ultimately help; in PJ's case that wall has been broken down, providing unique benefits for everyone. While P.J. was working at the lab they announced a breakthrough: Bredel's lab identified 31 genes involved in the formation of glioblastoma tumors.

P.J. is back at school at Columbia University in New York City, with a greater focus than ever and plans to specialize in Neuroncology. Regarding his future, P.J. said, "I must have gotten this stupid brain tumor for a reason...probably to raise money and become a stellar doctor. Now I know without a doubt what field I'm supposed to enter. I have a gut feeling that I have a long life ahead of me."

As for his battle with cancer, my money's on P.J. He has now been living tumor-free for one year and his regular MRIs are showing no signs of cancer. Team Peej will be running in the American Brain Tumor Association Path to Progress again this year. They are hoping to be beat last year's fundraising total. P.J.'s attitude continues to be upbeat and positive. Reflecting on last year P.J. reveals, "I always wanted to make a difference in my life and do something worthwhile and this is the best thing that I've ever been able do."

Team Peej raises money for the American Brain Tumor Association.
PJ on the Bonnie Hunt show
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