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By Julie Price
Bright-eyed and beautiful, Raelyn Luchansky does not look like a woman fighting for her life.
Ten months after the Simi Valley mother, then pregnant, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, she is the proud mother of two, continuing to push back against the deadly disease she has not yet beaten.
Several days of most weeks, Luchansky and her husband, Dave, go to UCLA for outpatient chemotherapy and other medical treatments aimed at getting her into remission so she can have the stem-cell transplant that could cure her. (Her brother is a perfect genetic match for the transplant.)
Raelyn Luchansky lives with her family "in my bubble," she said, in the Simi Valley home of her parents — Ray and Lynne Conklin. She tries to avoid infection and peripheral ailments that could be deadly as she battles acute myeloid leukemia.
Her cancer count has gone down, but she has not gone into remission. Before treatment, 88 percent of her white blood cells were cancerous. The count has gone as low as 22 percent in recent months but is now in the high 30 percent range. It must be 5 percent or below for a transplant.
It is a daunting fight against the odds, but she fights her battle with the support of a strong family and tight-knit community.
In the past 10 months, Simi Valley families, friends, neighbors and merchants have provided goods, services, time and money to help sustain her, 33; Dave, 38; and their daughter, Siena, 3, and son, Noah, 7 months.
The community on Saturday will support them with a fundraising holiday boutique at Royal High School, 1402 Royal Ave.
Running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the boutique will have more than 20 vendors. All proceeds will benefit the family.
Event planner Harriet Hunsaker is a longtime friend and co-worker of Lynne Conklin's at Royal High, where Hunsaker works the front desk. Hunsaker also planned a similar fundraiser at the school in April.
"We're just trying to be there for the family," she said. "They really rely on themselves a lot and don't ask for much help."
The first fundraiser netted nearly $6,000 for the family, Hunsaker said. The boutique could do better.
"It should be really good shopping," she said. "The first one went really, really well. I just said I want to do something again."
Raelyn Luchansky has thanks for the community .
"Simi Valley is a special place," she said. "I am very humbled that they are doing another fundraiser for me at Royal. So many of these people have not met me, and yet they are willing to give their time and talents to help my family and me out. All I can say is, 'Wow,' and, 'Thank you.' What a blessing."
For the family, the whole world shifted Jan. 18.
Happily living in Austin, Texas, with Dave and 2-year-old Siena, Raelyn Luchansky was on a leave of absence from her teaching job in Simi Valley. She was four months pregnant and going in for what she thought was a routine doctor's appointment.
Sitting alone in the doctor's office, she learned she had an extremely aggressive form of leukemia that required immediate treatment. She would need to go to a hospital in Temple, Texas, within two hours and start chemotherapy in two days. To give her the strength she would need to fight for her life, the baby would need to be aborted.
A medical condition that put Luchansky at risk ultimately prevented the abortion. Noah was delivered by cesarean section March 30, between rounds of chemotherapy and 10 weeks early. He was 2 pounds, 4 ounces but healthy. Today, at 7 months old, he weighs 16 pounds and has normal to advanced developmental skills.
Noah's health is a blessing — and a physical drain on his mother.
"Raising him while fighting this difficult disease seems almost unbearable at times," she said, "but we take it a day at a time, sometimes a minute at a time, if we need to.
"The important part is our family is sticking together like glue," she said. "We remain tough and will fight this until, God willing, I reach remission."
Neither Raelyn nor Dave Luchansky knows her prognosis or chances of survival.
"I've never asked really," she said. "I know I have a very aggressive leukemia. I don't want to know numbers."Dave Luchansky said, "Statistically, I know it would not be something favorable," but it is never about statistics.
"There's always amazing stories that you read about," he said. "We're obviously fighting this fight to survive, and we're hoping. ... If anyone can beat this disease, it's Raelyn."
Raelyn Luchansky, a grade-school teacher, says being idle is the hardest part.
"I don't know if I'll be able to go back to teaching," she said. "If I get my transplant and my health is restored, I know I want to give back to my community and beyond."
Meanwhile, to stay in touch, she blogs at caringbridge.org/visit/raelynluchansky and focuses on keeping her spirits up."This journey I am on is longer than my family or I anticipated," she said. "With that comes what I think of as a lot of personal growth. I am more faithful to God than I was before. ... I believe God is refining me, and I can say for certain I am an even more patient person than I ever was before."
She may be refined, but she does not wish to be defined by a disease.
"Sometimes I just feel like the cancer consumes your life," she said. "Even if you try not to talk about it, it's always there. ... I just sometimes feel like, hey, there's more to me than the cancer. I'm not just 'Raelyn, the girl with the cancer.'"I stopped asking why long ago," she said. "I've learned to accept that this is in God's hands, not mine."
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