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Garfield’s champion: The story of Tyler Lutz’s fight against cancer

Garfield’s champion: The story of Tyler Lutz’s fight against cancer


By Tom Nader

Publisher and Editor


The 1957 Chevy in Tyler Lutz’s garage has always been a labor of love.

Found in a field about six years ago, it has been a piece of history that he has always gravitated to.

The car is now stripped down to the bare metal and it is not unusual for his parents to hear him wrenching and grinding on the car in the garage.

His father, Matthew Lutz, who is also a car enthusiast, smiles as he talks about his son’s fascination.

Not only because he is watching his son share love for his same passion, but also because he knows from experience the life lessons that working on a car can provide.


“It makes me so proud, because there is such a sense of accomplishment in restoring a car,” Matt Lutz said. “You have to be willing to make mistakes and accept those mistakes, to fail, then to problem solve your way out of it. To work on a car like that, it takes determination and the people that are interested in dedicating the time to it are a dying breed.”

Determination is one thing that Tyler knows very well.

In fact, the junior at James A. Garfield High School has many adoring characteristics, with all of them painting a picture even without words through his infectious smile. They are joined with the perfect amount of stubborness, the kind that is a good thing, mixed with an enthusiasm for life that gave him the strength to fight for his life.

Even on the days when he didn’t think he could be strong.

Tyler won his fight.

On June 7, 2021, a Monday filled with emotions, Tyler rang the bell inside University Hospital’s Cleveland Rainbow Babies.

He was cancer free.




On a fall night that started just like every other, Tyler, then an eighth-grader, just returned home for the night after a football game against Mogadore.

A discomfort beneath the left side of his shoulder pad prompted Tyler’s mother, Michelle, to check out what was bothering him.

She felt a lump and noticed a swelling that continued up her son’s neck and jaw-line.

In that moment, Michelle was not alarmed.

Throughout his childhood, when Tyler began to get sick, “his lymph nodes would always swell,” and just like all the other times, he was put on an antibiotic.

The prescription, though, did not work.

And additional symptoms were not only noticeable, but began to concern Matt and Michelle.

“He was losing weight in addition to the visible things that we began to see, I remember one day when he went out to wash one of the cars. He could not get halfway done before he needed to sit down to take a break,” Matt recalled.

This seemed different and the family decided it was time for an evaluation.

Tyler’s blood work showed an increased level of white blood cells.

“We started to have a bad feeling, but the only way to get more information or to know, for sure, what Tyler was dealing with, was if they did a biopsy,” Michelle said.

On Oct. 14, 2020, Tyler was diagnosed with Hodgskin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system.

Surgery was scheduled for Nov. 23, 2020 — the night before Thanksgiving.




Matt and Michelle felt a mixture of terrifying emotions, including scared and helpless.

Two dangerously negative, but completely understandable, feelings.

“You want to stop yourself from thinking about the worst, but you can’t help but worry about the worst,” Matt said. “Honestly, if it was not for my wife telling me that things were going to be OK, I don’t know what I would have done.”

Michelle, who is a gastroenterology nurse at UH Portage Medical Center, was scared just the same, but became a pillar of strength for her husband and son.

“You do feel helpless. Really helpless, but we needed to trust that everything was going to be OK,” Michelle said.




The dates all stick out in Tyler’s head.

Garfield’s Tyler Lutz (left) surveys the floor during a matchup with Windham earlier this season.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

Numbers always have come easy to him.

Dec. 7, 2020: His port was implanted.

Dec. 14: First chemotherapy treatment.

The second round of chemo was on New Year’s Eve, a Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020.

The third was on Jan. 18.

All dates that Tyler cites without thinking.

“At the very beginning, I don’t remember the treatments being that bad, but as they continued, I would feel more and more sick,” Tyler said.

But he just kept going.

Tyler would use the day after his treatments as “recovery days,” which only seemed to get in the way of him being able to get back to school. Back to sports. Back to his friends.

All the places he wanted to be.

Before any of the treatments began, Tyler was told that after four treatments, the doctors planned to re-evaluate his status. From that point, he would have either four or eight more treatments.

The doctors determined that Tyler needed another eight rounds, and he totaled 12 total treatments, spending every other Monday in the hospital for them.

While the treatments took a toll on his body, there was also a mental impact.

“Honestly, just being at the hospital was enough to make me sick sometimes,” Tyler said. 

The smell of the hospital, the sounds or even some of the food that Tyler would eat before or after treatments, have developed a PTSD feeling for Tyler.

Understandably, the emotions were always running high.

There were arguments in the parking garage between Tyler and his mother about whether or not he would go into the hospital for another treatment.

There were arguments about Tyler wanting to go back to school immediately following each treatment.

There were arguments about Tyler getting back into athletics too soon.

All were healthy arguments that centered around the parents trying to protect the longterm health of their son and a teenager fighting to try to live the same normal life all his peers were.

Tyler was getting close to getting his normal life back.

On May 31, 2021, he completed his final round of chemotherapy treatment.

One week later, he was declared cancer free.




Throughout the entire treatment and recovery process, Tyler never lost his persistent passion for sports.

And in the toughest time of his life, having sports and his teammates as an outlet, distraction and sense of normalcy was an unmatchable power.

Tyler’s doctors agreed. With continued monitoring, they encouraged him to continue to remain as active as he felt possible.

In fact, his doctors were amazed at how much Tyler was able to continue to do, including weight lifting throughout his chemo treatments.

“To keep going, to stay active, it actually helped me,” Tyler said. “To keep pushing myself instead of just laying in my bed, doing nothing and feeling sorry for myself.”

Before his diagnosis, Tyler was a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball.

He moved from one sport to the next as one season moved to the next — and sometimes the sports overlapped with each other.

When Tyler got sick, he understood his situation, but was not willing to give up everything that made him happy.

Instead of sitting out the baseball season during the spring months that his chemotherapy was nearing its end, he played, despite the risk of getting hit anywhere, but especially his port.

The ’57 Chevy helped solve that problem.

“My stepmom took the horn button off the steering wheel and sewed it into a shirt so that it would protect the port,” Matt said.

Tyler played first base and eventually nagged Matt enough to let him pitch.

“He made me nervous, but I had to let him be a kid,” Matt said. “I would always have a pinch runner for him — to try to protect him, and he would always argue with me that he wanted to run the bases.”

Instincts always won over for Tyler.

“He would dive the ball, he would bust through signs and try for the next base,” Matt said. “He only knew how to play the game one way and that was all in all the time.”

Despite his port being removed in July ahead of the start to his freshman year, Tyler did not play football that fall as a safety precaution.

Instead of feeling discouraged, Tyler looked for the next challenge.

That turned out to be cross country.

Tyler Lutz (right) releases a 3-point attempt during Garfield’s matchup at Windham earlier this season.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

Running for head coach Matt Pfleger, who knew that he would only have Tyler, for one season, cross country became a new sport that turned out to be a “great experience.”

And a chance to run with Max.

Max May lost his valiant three-year fight against glioblastoma, a fast-growing type of brain tumor, on June 6, 2023.

“When we lost Max, it hit really, really hard. It still does. It hurts so bad,” Matt said. “Max was such a great kid.”

Beyond their courageous fights against cancer, Tyler and Max shared a number of similarities.

A shared birthday.

Wizards with numbers.

Marvelous memories.

Unmatched love for sports.

The patient personalities to teach.

“Max was a very special person, and we miss him,” Michelle said.




As important as sports were to Tyler’s recovery, the outreach from the community more than matched it.

“We could never thank people enough for what they did for us — and how they were there for us,” Michelle said.

Friends were there to play video games.

Families were there to provide meals.

Everyone was there, at the right time, for loving messages and well wishes.

“It was unbelievable,” Michelle said.

“I couldn’t imagine trying to deal with this as a family in a different town,” said Matt, who is a 1996 graduate of Garfield and met Michelle while they were at school at Eastern Michigan University. “The amount of love we felt from the community was overwhelming. Even from people that we didn’t know or had never met.

“I really don’t think we could ever say thank you enough.”




Immediately following his cancer-free diagnosis, Tyler was put on a schedule for six-month checkups that included scans to ensure remission.

His final six-month checkup will be in June, then he will be moved to a once-a-year appointment that will no longer require scans and only blood work.

Tyler has six-month checkups that include scans to ensure that he is still in remission.

They continue to bring back positive news.

It is reassuring, but it still doesn’t stop Matt from checking Tyler’s neck for lumps every morning.

“It is the panic part that is in me,” Matt said.

On the day that Tyler was diagnosed with cancer, he was 5-foot-3 and 100 pounds.

Today, Tyler is 6-1 and 200 pounds.

His smile has never been brighter, and he flashes it more often than he speaks up.

Tyler is back on the football field.

He is back on the basketball court.

He is back on the baseball diamond.

“Tyler embodies the toughness that we want all of our kids to have,” Garfield boys basketball coach Andy Olesky said. “Tyler is a tremendous role model to his peers because of how he has handled his entire situation. His commitment to everything has never wavered. People see that, coaches surely see it — and it is a true testament to Tyler and his family and how he was raised. He is a special, special kid.”

And Tyler is still in love with that 1957 Chevy.

Tyler and his grandfather, Phil Lutz, who worked as an auto mechanic teacher for 35 years, are at car shows all the time together.

“They have a special bond,” Matt said, “his grandpa was a big part of creating the car obsession that Tyler has now.”

One of many that Tyler fought for his life to keep.

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