More than £7,700 has been raised for a terminally ill man, 26, to fulfil his final dream of marrying his fiancée before his death.
A fund was launched for Joel Gray, from Carlisle, who was diagnosed with leukaemia for the third time at the beginning of last month, to fulfil his dream of marrying his fiancée Jenna Kersey from Stirling.
“I just felt numb,” said Joel, explaining the moment he took the dreaded phone call confirming the news he had feared.
“I don’t think I have come to terms with it yet.”
The diagnosis knocked the couple – who had big plans for the future – for six. They’ve been told Joel may have just a matter of weeks or months to live.
“We didn’t expect it at the time,” said fiancée Jenna Kersey, 26.
“We were so happy and we had so many plans.
“We were going to get married in 2023 but obviously we’ve moved that forward.
“It’s been very very difficult because Joel was changing for the better. He was much happier and had been in remission for two years.
“It was like being hit by a tonne of bricks, it floored us.”
Rollercoaster of emotions
Jenna says the weeks since the diagnosis have been a rollercoaster of emotions.
“It is overwhelming. I’m planning a wedding but in the back of my mind I have to start planning his funeral. His mum and the whole family have come together. They’ve said, ‘We will help you with all you need’.
“It is bittersweet. I am excited for the wedding, but we take every day as it comes. Some days Joel is very tired. We plan every day around whether he is feeling okay.
“The fact that he was doing so well in life. He had plans to go to college and university and to become someone. He wanted a career and to own his own business.
“It is difficult having everything taken away.
“We don’t know when his last day is going to be. He doesn’t deserve it. He is such a nice, thoughtful, considerate guy.
“He is still always thinking of others.”
It has been difficult to process the news for the pair.
“We both cried at first but then a week later it didn’t seem real. Within the last week or so he thought, ‘this is actually really happening to me’,” said Jenna.
Despite the news coming as a shock, it was something Joel knew in the back of his mind would always be a possibility.
“I wasn’t surprised. I knew it was going to come back,” he said.
“I always got told it would come back, but I didn’t think it would be two years after it. I thought I would be in my 30s and 40s.
“As soon as they said it was something in the blood I knew what it was straight away.”
Joel was just 17 when he was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a rare and aggressive form of cancer in 2012.
Three years later he was told the disease was in remission.
In 2018 Joel was diagnosed with leukaemia for the second time, but this time he had both ALL and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). After saying his goodbyes to his family, a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, he was again told he was in remission.
Last month Carlisle man Joel was sent for tests after he found swelling on his right knee. Tests confirmed the news everyone feared – his cancer had returned – and it was terminal.
Joel is incredibly grateful to all those who have supported him.
“I am astonished, absolutely astonished,” he said.
“I didn’t know anyone was setting it up for me in the first place. Even after the first £20 and £30 I was astonished because we are just coming out of lockdown and people are only just going back to work, so for people to put any amount of money in is out of this world.
“I said to my mum that even if someone put a penny I would still be so grateful. Not because they put the penny in but because they’ve taken the time.”
Jenna says the community support has helped to make an incredibly difficult situation that little bit easier.
“Absolutely, I was a bit speechless. It is amazing knowing that people are willing to help us. So many people have reached out to us to help with the wedding and the preparation,” she said.
“Joel can use that money in whatever way he wants but I know he is going to leave money to help with the funeral costs. That is the kind of guy he is.”
The couple are planning a wedding in Carlisle at the start of next month.
To donate to the fundraiser, click below.