Editor's Note: Bob Alsup is the dad of Joel, whose inspiring story of being a childhood cancer survivor at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and marrying the love of his life, a fellow former St. Jude patient, was featured on TODAY Nov. 20. This year, St. Jude is celebrating 15 years of partnering with TODAY to share the incredible stories of St. Jude patients and their families as part of the St. Jude Thanks and Giving campaign. Here, Bob shares with the TODAY Parenting community a little more about their family's experience and how it's shaped their approach towards gratitude.
By Bob Alsup
Being a dad is supposed to be challenging. Challenges make your spiritual, emotional, and physical muscles grow. But little did I know what lay ahead for me, my wife Lota, and our three children as we prepared for Christmas 1987.
When Joel, our oldest, was having trouble buckling his seatbelt, I thought he was just messing around like a normal 7-year-old. But when we were playing catch with a tennis ball in the den, and he reached for the ball again and again with his left hand, I knew something wasn’t right. Joel wasn’t left-handed. And this wasn’t fooling around.
The Alsup family
Lota took him to our pediatrician, and the rest happened quickly. She called me at work and told me to come to the hospital right away – Joel had bone cancer, in his right arm. I remember standing and falling back into my office chair as the words penetrated my consciousness.
I rushed to the hospital and did my best to get the pediatric oncologist to tell me some kind of mistake had been made. My son couldn’t have cancer. My brain was spinning; the world was crashing in around me.
The pediatric oncologist had worked at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and he told us that no better treatment option existed for Joel. He told us we had time to celebrate Christmas at home, but right afterward, we needed St. Jude.
All the time I was worried this would be my last Christmas with our firstborn child. When friends asked me if I was ok, all I could say was the truth: No.
We arrived at St. Jude in the early evening of December 27. Quickly we learned incredible news: the hospital would bear the cost of Joel’s treatment that exceeded our insurance coverage; they would provide meals and lodging while we were in Memphis; and they would also pay for transportation costs between our home and the hospital. Lota has said that the experience reminded her of another story we hear a lot around Christmas…. Here was a huge debt that we could not hope to repay, and someone we’d never seen loved us enough to step in and pay it for us.
Bob and Joel Alsup
One day around that time, I shared with a close friend that I wondered if I could dare to dream that I would see my son graduate from high school. That was 31 years ago. What has happened?
I did see Joel graduate from high school, and accomplish many other milestones, because he was cured and has been cancer-free for 30 years. He works for ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude.
Recently, at the very beginning of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, he married Lindsey, another St. Jude miracle, who also works for ALSAC, and he’s now a dad himself, helping raise Lindsey’s children, Audrey and Jacob.
Lindsey and Joel Alsup on their wedding day.
A dad’s dreams are wrapped up in his children. Now all my dreams for Joel have come true.
This Thanksgiving I am a grateful father. Here are some of the things I’m thankful for:
- God using the awesome tool of St. Jude to heal my son and his wife
- For my wife and her ability to see things I miss
- For my children and my grandchildren and the ability to experience life with them
- For our pediatric oncologist referring us to St. Jude
- For the loving caregivers of St. Jude For the donors who make St. Jude possible
To learn more about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, please visit www. stjude.org.