UFC lightweight star Joe Lauzon always planned to take a lot of time off from competition to make way for the birth of he and his wife's son. Lauzon got back in the win column with an exciting decision over Mac Danzig last December and carved out time to help get his soon-coming son Joey on his feet before taking another fight.
Joe and his wife had no idea how involved and scary things would get, however. In the first week of January, 2014, Joey Lauzon was born - bright, beautiful but already struggling more than any baby deserves to.
Joey was born with a cancer called Neuroblastoma. He couldn't leave the hospital for a long time and had to begin chemo-therapy at just days old.
Doctors were worried that the large tumor in his back might even sever his spinal cord. The stress and danger to their newborn son was seemingly all-encompassing for months.
Lauzon says it was the most trying time of his life. "Definitely," he tells Cagewriter about a week before he is set to make his Octagon return Sep. 5 on the UFC Fight Night main card against Michael Chiesa.
"At least, early on. Things have been really good since March. Since march sit and wait kind of deal. We’ve been really lucky The first two months we were completely helpless. We couldn’t do anything.
"It is really weird being so helpless because I'm used to taking an active role and getting things done, dealing with things head-on. All we could do was go to the hospital every day, do what the doctors said.
"There’s really no great way to cope on it. You just try to stay positive and informed every single day. There were a lot of things I couldn’t change. I can't take cancer away. So, I just tried to be there for Katie - who was there all day, every day. We had tons of help from friends and family as well."
Needless to say, during this time MMA was not the most important thing on Lauzon's mind. In fact, at one point he wasn't sure if he would ever make a return to MMA competition.
"For a little bit I really didn’t know if I'd fight again. We had to think, 'what's going to be the deal with Joey?' If it continued to be a 24/7 job dealing with him we started thinking about what we were going to do next. Would we focus on the gym more or whatever. Joey had hospital shots every day, his immune system was compromised from the chemo therapy, he had doctor's appointments just about every day," he explains.
"Luckily, he's done great. They were straight up with us and said, 'he's got cancer but if you're going to have to get cancer, this is the type of cancer to have.' If they catch it before eighteen months, there's a really good prognosis. Something like 85%-90% survival rate. If they discover it past eighteen months, then that drops down to 30%. Neuroblastoma has been studied a lot so they know a ton about it. Sometimes they don't treat it at all. They just keep an eye on it."
Little Joey went through three rounds of chemo-therapy and was eventually was allowed to go home with his parents, but with constant visits from nurses. As he got stronger, however, the nurse vists were no longer necessary.
That's when Joe Sr. says he was finally able to start relaxing a little bit. "That's when things started to feel a little bit normal again," he says.
In July, a scan showed no evidence of the cancer left in Joey's body. "July 3 is his unofficial birthday," Joe says with a smile.
"That's the day the oncologist told us that there was no sign of cancer left. Now he has monthly MRI scans. Later, it will be every two months, eventually it will be just once a year, for the rest of his life."
Joe says that, though he didn't know if he'd be able to fight again, his wife Katie made him get back into training a couple weeks after their son's birth. "After two weeks in the hospital for 11-12 hours a day, I started stretching, bouncing and shadow boxing in the hospital," he remembers.
"People were looking at me weird. Katie told me, 'you have to train again.' She was there every day and she was amazing. So, I was able to start training a bit, again. If I trained in the morning, I would go to the hospital at night. If I trained at night, I would go to the hospital in the morning."
Once Lauzon felt comfortable committing to fight again, and signed to take on Chiesa, he said his training kicked into high and effective gear. "Camp has gone really well," he says.
"The first couple weeks of camp would deviate a little bit from the normal routine but eventually I decided that I needed to focus on the fight."
Lauzon insists that the results have been good. The red-hot Chiesa represents a big challenge to Lauzon (check back with us Wed. for more from Joe on how he matches up against The Ultimate Fighter winner), he knows, and "J-Lau" is confident that he'll be better than ever come Sep. 5
"I feel better for this one than for any other fights," he says.
"I'm really sharp and things have come together at the perfect time. In some other camps I thought I peaked a couple weeks early. I'm really dialed in, now. I'm good, strong, and fast."