From Cancer Survivor to Triathlete, Joel Alsup Does It All

This past year I had the great honor of visiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Our tour guide was Joel Alsup and he knew every in and out of the hospital. During the tour, he begins to tell his story of being a St. Jude cancer survivor. Not only was he knowledgeable, but as he shared facts about St. Jude, his face lit up with an energy that was contagious.

Twenty-nine years ago this month, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, which is a type of cancer that starts in the bones.

“I was 7 years old when my parents noticed that I stopped using my right hand. We went to my pediatrician and noticed the tumor on my arm. The tumor was strong enough to break a bone in my arm. Two days after Christmas, we traveled to St. Jude for help, “ says Joel.

Former cancer patient, Joel Alsup is carried by his doctor, Brent Powell.

Joel Alsup and Brent Powell

Joel’s parents were uncertain if their health insurance would be sufficient to cover the year-long treatment. “I remember my Dad approaching the front gate at St. Jude and asking for hotel recommendations. We come to find out that all our expenses would be paid: room, board, meals, and treatment! ‘Focus on your son they said.”

Chemotherapy started right away, but eventually Joel would receive distressing news. His arm would have to be amputated. He was put in touch with another patient who was also receiving treatment. Joel felt at ease knowing that someone else was fighting the same disease as he was, and his innate ability to power- thru helped him complete his journey. Joel remembers, “If John could do it, then I can too! At the time, I was more upset that my favorite Cubs t-shirt was cut to place my IV!”

Joel was lucky that the tumor didn’t spread. Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer in children and teens. If the disease is localized (has not spread to other areas of the body), the long-term survival rate is 70 to 75%. If osteosarcoma has already spread to the lungs or other bones at diagnosis, the long-term survival rate is about 30%.

Astonishingly, Joel wouldn’t change any part of his experience. “Losing my arm was a small price to pay. Sometimes, I feel guilty that I made it. In the past year, I’ve lost 3 friends. I go to bed knowing that they would want me to keep going and helping others. I have nothing but deep gratitude for St. Jude. As years go by, I witness St. Jude saving more kids.”

Not only is Joel a former St. Jude cancer survivor, Joel has worked for St. Jude for 14 years. With a degree in Media Production, Joel is a producer and now works with other families to tell their story.

“I enjoy filming the many beautiful stories that come from St. Jude. It’s amazing every time,” says Joel. See below to watch St. Jude’s end of year video produced by Joel.

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Joel is not just a survivor, he has chosen to live life to the fullest. He has completed his 11th triathlon. In April 2016, he completed one in 7 hours! With the love of the outdoors and life, he plans to continue to be a part of them and spreading St. Jude’s message.


Former patient, Brian, Joel, and former patient, Sarah at a marathon.

Former patient, Brian, Joel, and former patient, Sarah

“Life is beautiful. I look back at 29 years of life and being the best man in my brother’s wedding, being at my sister’s wedding, and vacationing with my family. St. Jude means everything to me. And what they’ve accomplished is beyond what I thought it would be. St. Jude is graduation. It’s a wedding. They’re part of my family.”

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