Doctor dances with patient on her wedding day

Doctor dances with patient on her wedding day
Kalee James on the day of her last chemotherapy treatment in Memphis. (Source: Kimberly James)
Kalee James on the day of her last chemotherapy treatment in Memphis. (Source: Kimberly James)
A photo taken of Kalee before her cancer diagnosis. (Source: Kimberly James)
A photo taken of Kalee before her cancer diagnosis. (Source: Kimberly James)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - It only took a few seconds for everyone in the room to realize there was something special happening.

Happy couples, relatives, and friends cleared the way as a man, unfamiliar to some, was leading the bride on the dance floor and she was enjoying every moment as she laughed uncontrollably.

It was clear, bride Kalee James, now the new Mrs. Reagan Martin, knew him as she allowed herself to be twirled around the room.

But it wasn't her dad or another relative. On this particular day, even the groom was upstaged, for just a little while, by this man who led the bride with an outstretched arm and quick step.

His determination to enjoy the moment was evident and the bride's laughter signaled that the antics were working. So who might this stranger be?

Well, without him, the wedding day might never have happened.

"When he came through the receiving line, we all embraced and cried," Kimberly James, mother of the bride, said regarding Dr. Scott Howard, a former pediatric hematology and oncology physician with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

Dr. Howard has since taken a job with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

James remembers a different time. As a mother, it was perhaps, one of the most difficult in her life. Her daughter was a teenager then.

Kalee had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma. She began the many trips back and forth to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

"Throughout treatment, even in the hard times, he always made us laugh," James said.

"My husband said, 'how do you possibly thank someone who helped save your daughter's life? You can't. You thank God for placing him there and you celebrate each day.'"

"Sharing the good times makes it all worthwhile, and no matter how much Kalee and her family enjoyed us being there, I am certain that I enjoyed it more," Dr. Howard said of his attendance at the wedding which took place at Harmony Gardens in Jonesboro. "Special days for patients are always a top priority, and it is such a privilege to see a young person overcome cancer and go on to graduate from high school and college, get married, and have children."

Kalee James-Martin, a 2016 Arkansas State University graduate, is now a kindergarten teacher at Wynne Primary School. Her new husband, Reagan, is a mental health therapist with Families Inc. In Jonesboro.

Dr. Howard's work in cancer treatment has since shifted since the days when he treated Kalee.

"My work is focused on global health and improving outcomes for children with cancer in low-income countries, so I travel a lot outside the country and have had to miss a lot," Dr. Howard said. "However, if there is any way to make it happen, I would always prioritize sharing an incredible day with a dear patient and friend."

Kalee's battle with cancer was one embraced by the local community and beyond.  A photo snapped of her standing outside of a van with the words, "Today is my last chemo!" etched on the side of a van went viral on social media.

The post garnered over 290,000 likes as people all over the world wished her well. 

"Kalee is amazing, and her whole family is such a blessing. You can spend five minutes with any of them and feel encouraged, energized and glad to be alive," Dr. Howard said. "It is so inspiring to see someone so young deal with cancer, chemotherapy, and everything that goes with it while remaining so positive, loving, and other-focused. To see her now getting married and started her career is so very beautiful and gratifying. Sunday was one of the best days of my life because of her!"

Kalee is cancer-free. She has to be monitored for any recurrence.

On one of her trips to St. Jude, she discovered that Dr. Howard had left to take a new position with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.   

"He travels the world teaching and sharing cancer treatments with his new job," James said. "He is an amazing doctor and person!"

"Oncology and global health are certainly passions for me," Dr. Howard said. "But there are many good people with other passions, who find different ways to help people, so you can imagine what a joy it is to see my patients finish their treatment and go on to do all the things they love, like becoming a teacher and helping children."

Back on the dance floor, cell phones captured the doctor-patient dance from nearly every angle. A beautiful beaming bride with golden locks of hair reminded everyone just how far cancer had been beaten back. Indeed, it was time to celebrate.

Dr. Howard and his wife, also a St. Jude Children's Research Hospital physician, knew it. They drove from Memphis to be there for Kalee's special day—a day filled with laughter, smiles, and one very special dance.

"Celebrating good times, achievements, and happy moments is critical for all of us," Dr. Howard said. " I wish we could all realize how short this life is, with or without cancer, so we would enjoy every moment to the fullest."

Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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