Willy and Adrienne Shelton

Willy and Adrianne Shelton talk about their son Joel, his twin Nathan and their younger brother, and how Joel’s  leukemia diagnosis and treatment has impacted their family, faith and relationships.


Adrienne: I think the first one I want to ask you is, describe how you felt when you learned of your loved one’s condition?

Willy: At the beginning I don’t think there was anything going through my mind other than “You have a responsibility to get things done.” I went in to autopilot for a lot of that day.

A: How has Joel’s condition impacted your life?

W: It’s done a lot of things. It’s shown me the kindness that is in humanity. It’s shown me that uh, even loving to the best of my ability and having the desire to protect and to care for and to honor and take care of my kids and my wife, I’m not the one who makes those decisions. What I felt was significance in who I am and what I do, is a very small cog in the machine that god has for a plan for my son. That he’s going to be who he is in spite of what I do and don’t do because God knows the type of man he wants him to be.

A: Oh boy. What have you learned about Joel from this experience?

W: I don’t know that I learned anything that I didn’t already know about him, but there was a lot of definition that was added to the fuzziness of getting to know your child. Joel, at the beginning, had zero empathy. He was the kid that somebody would get hurt and he would continue to play right next to them and so we had this boy with no empathy and yet the incredible ability to handle horrible stuff happening to him. You never want to pick a kid to go through cancer, but the doctors totally lucked out on how that played (Adrienne laughs). Because Joel is our stoic, (Adrienne: and patient) and brave and patient and soft child. He gives a lot of grace when he’s miserable. And that’s the time when most people struggle. And Nathan, his twin, was the absolute dramatic foil. Um, Nathan would’ve been a horrible horrible patient. (Adrienne laughs) Um, I remember when we went in, on Valentine’s Day, to have the blood draw done they could not find a vein on Joel. Joel hadn’t yet started crying, but as soon as they put the needle in Joel’s arm for the blood draw, the phlebotomist looks over and Nathan’s at the foot of the bed in a chair, and he just quietly has tears streaming down his face, and she said “Are you okay?” He’s five and he looks at her and he goes: “You put a needle in Joel, I’m going to cry. That’s what I do.” And it was like “Yup!” It was just the way it needed to be. As Joel walked through losing his hair, Nathan wanted his head shaved and shaved his little head with Joel. And when Joel would cry and (Adrienne: and couldn’t talk) couldn’t talk Nathan would have him whisper in his ear so that he could be the brave loud one in the hospital. All of these little fuzzies that you see of your kid become very clear, and yeah. I don’t feel like I learned more, I just learned deeper what we already had as far as an idea of what their personalities would be.

A: It was amazing to see a glimpse of the man he will be some day, I think. I think cancer definitely gave us that with all three boys and you have been through that thing you thought you couldn’t do ever. And here we are! (laughs)


Hear Me Now is a partnership with the Providence Institute for Human CaringStoryCorps and Alaska Public Media to record interviews with patients, family and caregivers. Storytelling and listening have proven clinical value, and are keys to whole person care, which addresses emotional, spiritual, and psychosocial comfort, as well as medical needs of patients and those who care for them.

Eric Bork, or you can just call him “Bork” because everybody else does, is the FM Operations Manager for KSKA-FM. He oversees the day-to-day operations of the FM broadcast. He produces and edits episodes of Outdoor Explorer, the Alaska-focused outdoors program. He also maintains the web posts for that show. You may have heard him filling in for Morning Edition or hosting All Things Considered and can still find him operating the soundboard for any of the live broadcast programs.

After escaping the Detroit area when he was 18, Bork made it up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where he earned a degree in Communications/Radio Broadcasting from Northern Michigan University. He spent time managing the college radio station, working for the local NPR affiliate, and then in top 40 radio in Michigan before coming to Alaska to work his first few summers. After then moving to Chicago, it only took five years to convince him to move back to Alaska in 2010. When not involved in great radio programming he’s probably riding a bicycle, thinking about riding bicycles, dreaming about bikes, reading a book, or planning the next place he’ll travel to. Only two continents left to conquer!

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