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Faith carries LDS couple as each of their identical triplets battles rare eye cancer

Published: Thursday, March 13 2014 11:35 a.m. MDT

Two months after Thomas, Mason and Luke Low were born, each triplet was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer, retinoblastoma.

Emily Walton

Several months ago, the Low family found out their second pregnancy would give them not one more child, but three. The news that they would have identical triplet boys — in addition to their 2-year-old son — was surprising, but Richard and Leslie Low were excited for their unique opportunity.

"It was pretty shocking. We were just going in to find the gender, just the normal ultrasound that you do to find out if it was a boy or a girl and there you go, three boys," Richard Low said. "It was a little surprising. I think my wife was a little more shocked. When they told her we were having three, her first words were, ‘Oh, dear, I like my sleep.’"

Two months after Thomas, Mason and Luke were born, the family from Edmonton, Alberta, received more news — and this time, it was distressing.

It started only a few weeks ago, when Richard Low noticed that Mason's pupil had an odd shape. After consulting a friend, the Lows took Mason to the doctor. He was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer.

Doctors immediately expressed concern for the other triplets and scheduled an appointment to examine the boys the next day. Twenty-four hours later, Richard and Leslie Low learned that each one of their triplet boys had retinoblastoma.

"We obviously are devastated," the couple wrote on their blog at lows-lowdown.blogspot.com. "My heart nearly shattered to pieces when I heard the news, but I am trying to put myself back together. There's no time to be brokenhearted when you have four beautiful boys to care for."

Shortly after receiving the diagnosis, Richard and Leslie Low arranged to fly to Toronto to receive the treatment necessary for their triplets. There, separate diagnoses were given to each boy.

It was determined that Luke has 10 tumors scattered in both eyes, but they were located in the peripheral areas and not causing any central visual impairment. The tumors were treated with a laser or with cryotherapy, which freezes the tumors.

Mason has one main tumor in his left eye, along with smaller cancer cells that could develop into a tumor. He was given a localized chemotherapy treatment along with the laser treatment in hopes of keeping the tumor from growing.

Thomas, the worst case of the three, had a large central tumor that was too big to treat with laser, cryotherapy or chemotherapy injection. Richard and Leslie were forced to make a quick decision whether to pursue systemic chemotherapy, which has many risks, or to have the eye removed. After much thought and prayer, they elected to have the eye removed. The procedure took place last week.

Although each case is slightly different from the others, all three of the boys ended up having only one eye that needed immediate attention.

"You know, we have prayed for a miracle, and a miracle did happen," Leslie Low wrote on the family blog. "All babies have at least one really good eye. Prayers truly are being answered."

After the diagnosis of each triplet, the Lows began to realize how rare their situation was. On their blog it states: "Chances of marrying while at BYU, 1/3. Chances of having a boy, 1/2. Chances of having four boys in a row, 1/16. Chances of spontaneous identical triplets (no in vitro), 1/1,000,000. Chances of triplets having retinoblastoma, unheard of."

With such odds, it's easy to understand why Richard and Leslie Low might question why this happened to each of their babies.

"There have been times in the last week where my wife and I have been thinking, ‘Why us?’" Richard told the Deseret News. "It’s such a rare thing, affecting usually only 20-30 in Canada every year, and here we are with three of them."

Leslie Low also shared similar thoughts on her blog, writing, "Sometimes the thought creeps into my head, why? Haven't we been through enough this last year? But the thought quickly goes away as I know that Heavenly Father is right by our side. He blessed me to be able to carry the triplets to 34 weeks, and for them to be so healthy at birth."

Although it hasn't been long since this trial began and much is still unknown, both Richard and Leslie have learned the importance of focusing on the positive and relying on their faith as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I guess we just think it could be worse because we weren’t even going to be going to the doctors for a month or two — just for a regular checkup — and by that time, who knows how big the tumors could have been?" Richard told the Deseret News. "Just to kind of notice something in the eye and then pursue it, it was almost a fluke. But I’m sure it was a tender mercy to be able to catch it now and start dealing with it."

It is because of their beliefs that they have been able to cope and have hope for the future.

"Having the gospel, you look at it through a different lens than you would otherwise," Richard Low said. "It's hard in the moment to have an eternal perspective, but I guess you realize that it's just a temporary thing, this life, and one day it will be OK.

"I guess we just feel that it's kind of turned out this way for a reason — and we don't know why, we didn't ask for it — but it happened. It's kind of tough to explain because it's still right in the middle of everything, and everything is still kind of a blur. But our faith has just given us a lot of support knowing that things will be better one day, and that things happen for a reason."

What the Lows have been surprised about is the enormous amount of support and love they have felt from family, friends and strangers.

"I think a big part of that is just knowing that there are a lot of people out there praying for us, and even within the LDS Church, people fasting for us — especially people we don't even know," Richard Low said. "A lot of people have been writing on the blog or Facebook or whatever it is, just encouraging notes, saying they are praying for us and are aware of our situation."

Before the Lows came to Toronto, a mother whose own child had retinoblastoma contacted the young couple and offered to fly out and show them around.

"I think my wife thinks we couldn't have done it without her because with Toronto, neither me or my wife are very familiar with it at all," Richard said. "It's such a big place and just kind of overwhelming with everything that happens at the hospital, and with three babies needing it.

"She met us at the airport, she arranged our ride from the airport to where we were staying. She was there the whole day they were in the operating room. (She) basically just showed us the ropes of what it's going to be like when we come out for treatments, so it was very big."

Others offered a helping hand or supplies for the family that had to travel with three car seats and two strollers.

"We've had the bishop in the area call, other church members call. Giving us things from diapers, to Pack-N-Plays, to food," Richard said. "So it's been really nice that the local members around here have given us supplies. It's really helpful because I don't want to haul out 500 diapers and three Pack-N-Plays. So to have all that other stuff here was really generous."

Family members have also started a foundation for the Lows in order to help support them financially.

As parents, Richard and Leslie know that days will be long, but they strive to focus on what can be positive.

"Some days are a lot harder than others, like when we’re trying to travel with the three babies on an airplane and it’s very difficult to focus on the positive, you know this is going to be our lives," Richard said. "When they are in the (operating room) and we’re just waiting out there to hear any news, it’s very difficult to think about the positive.

"But you know, afterward when we see them and they wake up and they’re eating and they’re just their normal selves again, it’s a lot easier to think that they are going to be OK," he said. "It's very important (to think positively) because that's what keeps us going."

Email: spetersen@deseretnews.com

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