When Lindsey Wilkerson met fellow cancer patient Joel Alsup as a child in Memphis, Tennessee’s St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, she became friends with him. But that little girl could not imagine then what the future would have in store for the pair when they both had beaten cancer and grown to be adults.
At the tender age of seven years old, Joel, a resident of Chattanooga, TN, received some terrifying news. He’d been having some problems with his arm, even finding it difficult to put on his seatbelt; tragically, though, the issues had arisen because the little boy had a tumor.
It was later revealed that Joel was suffering from osteosarcoma – a cancer of the bones – and so he eventually ended up in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. But although Joel may not have felt lucky, he was nevertheless fortunate that the tumor had been caught before it could metastasize. The prognosis for osteosarcoma patients is considerably poorer in cases where the cancer has gotten into the lungs or moved into fresh bones.
And while Joel’s disease was still severe enough to require one of his arms to be amputated, he is well aware that he had been fortunate despite that loss. While looking back on his battle with cancer, he told Little Giant Life, “Sometimes, I feel guilty that I made it. In the past year, I’ve lost three friends. I go to bed knowing that they would want me to keep going and helping others.”
In any case, Joel did not let losing an arm hold him back. He said in an interview for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital website, “It felt awkward at first to not have my right arm, but I had asked so many questions beforehand that I was ready to just jump in and do things.” And he continued to be active too by swimming and taking up baseball – a sport he had never practiced before he had become an amputee.
In fact, Joel did not just survive his cancer; he thrived. His physical pursuits extended even as far as taking part in triathlons – of which he has finished nearly a dozen. He’s even competed in the South Beach Triathlon with other people who have been patients at St. Jude.
Joel has been an achiever in other aspects of his life, too – most notably by gaining a degree in communications. And he’s since given back to the hospital that had treated him. Joel first volunteered at the facility as well as acting as a guest speaker there; ultimately, he also took a job with the St. Jude-affiliated American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC).
During Joel’s childhood days as a patient, though, he had proved particularly inspirational to one young girl. Lindsey had also been hospitalized at St. Jude, having received a diagnosis of leukemia. And, understandably, she was pessimistic about life as a result.
In September 2018 Lindsey told Memphis-based ABC affiliate WATN, “Here I am at ten, thinking, ‘I’ve not made it to middle school, or high school, or college. And I have a life and a family that I want to have.’” She added, “And I felt like cancer was stealing that from me.”
In time, though, Lindsey would find someone to help her through: Joel. Of her then-buddy, she told CBS affiliate WREG in September 2018, “When I met this guy, when I was in treatment, I admired him. I looked up to him, I thought he was such an incredible person. We grew in our friendship over the years.”
Eventually, though, the two went their separate ways, as Lindsey went to school in Arkansas. She also subsequently began a family, having children Audrey and Jacob. Nonetheless, the mom nurtured a dream of going back to Memphis and finding a job in the hospital in which she had once been treated.
And, as chance would have it, ALSAC hired Lindsey as a liaison at St. Jude. Then, as she was learning the ropes, someone told her that there was a person she may wish to get to know. What happened next seems almost to have come from a fairy tale.
When Lindsey was introduced to the mystery man, something immediately struck her: his smile. And yes, it was Joel, with the friendship that they had shared as kids renewed soon after their reunion. As time passed, the pair’s relationship even had the possibility, it seemed, to become more romantic in nature, since Lindsey’s marriage would come to an end in 2015.
Finally, Joel got up the courage to say something. After watching a scary film at his house in 2016, he shared his feelings with Lindsey, explaining to WREG, “I was finally brave enough to tell her that I liked her. Not only that, [but] I loved her.” And he added, “Luckily, she felt the same way.”
Then, after Lindsey and Joel had become a couple, they started to talk marriage. And, finally, they decided to get hitched on the first day of September – a fitting choice, because September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S. What’s more, that date also happened to coincide with 901 Day – an occasion in which the people of Memphis celebrate their city.
During the big day, there were nods to the couple’s pasts, too. Lindsey’s lead doctor from her days at St. Jude read at the ceremony, for instance. And Joel’s chaplain from the hospital was the person who married them, reinforcing the pair’s connection to St. Jude.
There were extra layers of significance, then, to the ceremony itself. And, fortunately, the groom was more than satisfied with how the occasion had transpired. He told People in October 2018, “The wedding was amazing! There were lots of happy tears.”
Lindsey too appreciated her big day. She told WATN, “It was a perfect moment where all of these things came together.” And she also reflected on how the marriage seemed a natural milestone in their relationship. The bride said, “We were able to see how life had led us down this path.”
Meanwhile, the significance of the site of the wedding pavilion was not lost on Joel. He told People, “To know that just a few hundred feet from where we said ‘I do’ was literally where our lives were saved meant so much.”
However, Joel added to the magazine that it had been hard for the couple to grasp just how much their tale meant to others, since, for them, it had all been “just [their] lives.” Regardless, he continued, “If there is any significance we hope our story has, is that it lets families and kids battling cancer know that there is life after.”