BOZEMAN — You might think you hit a sour note if you were diagnosed with cancer and had to go through chemotherapy treatment. But that did not stop Luke Heupel from facing the music with grace and rising above to complete his Freshman year as a trumpet player at Montana State University.
How he did it is impressive but his attitude is even more inspiring. He says there’s a higher power to thank for his strength and his musical gifts.
Everyone we spoke to who hears Luke Heupel play licks on the trumpet agrees - the young man is talented.
“I really like orchestra-type stuff,” said Luke Heupel. “On the guitar, I really like to play country.”
Indeed it was music that put Luke on the radar of MSU faculty long before his senior year at Kalispell. Skills, as a musician and composer that would land Luke a scholarship in the School of Music.
Everything in Luke’s life was moving in harmony until a sudden illness would change the tune.
“I was a normal kid and just graduated high school. Going into the summer I got a little cough that developed into pneumonia. Eventually, they did more tests and found out I had leukemia. Acute Myeloid Leukemia,” explained Luke.
He calls it an unexpected blessing of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to that concern they caught the cancer early but there was a long road ahead. He was flown to Denver for six months of treatment including round after round of chemotherapy.
“Sometimes you just look back on it and you’re like, ‘Did that actually happen?’” said Luke.
He took with him his faith, a plan to stay on track at MSU, and of course his trumpet.
“That trumpet just gave me something to do in the hospital to keep my mind off stuff,” said Luke.
He attended his music classes via Zoom, even during those five intense rounds of chemo.
“We would pull down the big screen and it would be Luke on the big screen with everyone else here in class,” explained Instructor Dr. Sarah Stoneback. “Witnessing that was humbling and just very inspirational. That resonated with his fellow colleagues as well.”
She said he always came prepared. Luke managed to find multiple ways to practice in the hospital in spite of the fact a trumpet is not exactly quiet.
“So the trumpet is a loud instrument,” laughed Luke. “I had to get a practice mute to stick in there. I also had this one nurse, she’d always find spots in the hospital for me to play. Some worked better than others. The coolest one was she got me on top of the helicopter pad.”
Luke went into remission after the first round of chemo. The final four rounds were to make sure the cancer didn’t return.
Luke was able to attend one pop-up concert on campus at the end of the semester.
“That was really cool to finally meet everybody and actually play with other people because I had been playing alone forever,” said Luke.
Luke reminds us we all have spiritual gifts and he is thankful for his.
“I just want to say the reason that I was able to put on a smile every day go to class while doing chemo is because of my love for God and all that He’s done for me,” Luke said, still with a wide smile on his face. “Even though I’m going through all these bad things He was with me the whole time. I just have to trust in Him and look where I am now. I thought my world was falling apart but without my faith in Him where would I be, how would I be where I am today?”
Luke remains healthy now and looks forward to completing his Sophomore year on campus at MSU.