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Mother and son share inspiration for scared families

When Joel Soukup and his family were battling bone cancer, there was no book to tell them what to expect or what to do.

Now, thanks to Joel and his mother, Kathy, that is no longer true.

Joel fought osteosarcoma for the first time when he was attending Pine River-Backus High School at age 16. Though it cost him a leg, he won the battle. When the cancer came back at age 20, Joel came out on top yet again.

Having faced the disease together twice, Joel and Kathy released “Standing Tall: On One Leg,” a book about their struggle, in the hopes that it can be used by patients facing similar circumstances, whether they have cancer or not, whether they are young or old.

Mother and son each benefitted from journals they had written during Joel’s struggle.

“A lot of the stuff in there after Joel’s recurrent tumor was taken directly from his journals. So we didn’t change or edit anything from that,” Kathy said.

“That was helpful because looking back at going through all the chemo and things my memory was a little foggy, so having those day-to-day journals I could look back and see what I was thinking,” Joel said. “I didn’t write every day, but I wrote quite a bit.”

The book illustrates the past 10 years, beginning with Joel’s diagnosis, and follows the Soukup family through the hard times, but also the good times.

The book was written collaboratively between Joel and Kathy, and alternates between their points of view. Joel’s perspective is written separately from his mother’s and in a different font.

“I had a hard time doing a lot of mine. It took me longer than I thought it would because it was bringing back up old things I was kind of trying to bury,” Joel said. “Not necessarily trying to bury, but I just don’t like to dwell on it.”

The book tells how a game of basketball made Joel’s diagnoses feel real for the first time, and how a fated encounter in the video camera aisle at Best Buy helped Kathy realize that her son was going to be able to live a good life, even if he lost a leg.

From the stress of the amputation to the hilarity of the “garage incident,” Joel and Kathy say the book runs the gamut from dramatic to humorous, but it is ultimately intended to help those in similar circumstances to feel some level of comfort during their time of need.

“My goal was to get it out there to other parents who have had to face a childhood cancer diagnosis. I have said many times, I would have given my eye teeth to have a book like that to read, to know the possibilities, what’s going to happen, what has happened in the past,” Kathy said.

“What can happen,” Joel said.

“The book is intended to be an inspiration to people, a help to those going through it, to enjoy the funny parts,” Kathy said. “It’s not all doom and gloom and it can have a happy ending.”

“It’s kind of like the whole thing is a journey. It’s still going and it doesn’t really end,” Joel said. “(I’m) just kind of looking forward to the future and am more optimistic than I’ve been for a while.”

Today, Joel is going to school to become a counselor for people who have suffered similar misfortune. This summer he will be working in an internship with the Boys and Girls Club of America in St. Cloud.

“Standing Tall: On One Leg” was released April 5 on and Barnes and Noble. Kathy and her family are speaking to local book stores and businesses in the Pine River area about carrying their book. They want to market the book to cancer treatment facilities and hospitals.