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Joel Alsup

Joel Alsup: Redefining cancer

For 7-year-old Joel Alsup, buckling his seat belt had become an effort. No one imagined the problem with the boy’s right arm was the result of a tumor. His parents took him to their local doctor, who quickly sent them to St. Jude.

“None of us had heard of St. Jude, and initially I was kind of excited even though my parents were worried,” Alsup says. When they arrived and learned that the hospital would take care of practically all their needs, the family realized that St. Jude was completely different from other hospitals.

Alsup underwent four months of chemotherapy to treat osteosarcoma, a bone tumor. But although the tumor did not grow larger, it did not get any better. The next option was amputation.

“I was pretty prepared for the news,” Alsup recalls. “St. Jude had been sending an osteosarcoma patient, who also had his arm amputated, to talk to me while I was going through chemo. My parents came into my room before I went to bed one night and told me. I was not that upset. I cried more when they told me I was going to lose my hair.”

Despite the impending amputation, Alsup laughed and joked with staff on his way to surgery. “As a kid, I understood I had to go through this to get better,” he says. Surgery was followed by more chemotherapy to make sure the tumor was gone. “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,” Alsup says.

“I was a big swimmer, and I even started to play baseball, which I didn’t do even when I had both arms.”

Alsup completed his checkups at St. Jude and pursued a communications degree in college. After helping the hospital as a guest speaker, intern and volunteer, he was hired in the ALSAC Communications department. “When I am in the hospital working, I still see nurses who took care of me,” he says. “I can tell it makes them excited to see me doing well.”

Alsup says there is nothing he will not try to do. “People choose how things affect them,” he says. “I am not going to let cancer define who I am.”

Alsup has participated in the Nautica South Beach Triathlon and the US Challenge with five former St. Jude patients.