To Have and to Hold: A Longhorn Shows Cancer What Love Means


For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health: Millions of couples have spoken those vows. For Jessica Sink-Wilkes, ’11, and her husband Joshua Wilkes, they bear even more meaning than most.

The couple was married two years ago in a simple justice-of-the-peace ceremony. But Sink-Wilkes, a North Carolina native, had long dreamed of a wedding in Duke University’s stunning chapel. After doctors told her that there was nothing more they could do in her battle with appendiceal cancer, she and Wilkes decided to renew their vows in the ceremony she’d always wanted.

On Tuesday, they did just that. An army of family and friends volunteered to help with the details; Duke University made an exception to hold the wedding for the pair, who don’t have official ties to the school or church.

Even so, the odds were against her: Sink-Wilkes had been in the intensive care unit just days earlier, and her family and friends didn’t think she would be able to make it to the wedding. When she walked down the aisle in a beautiful white gown, says her friend Lauren Crim, BA ’10, “It was nothing short of a miracle.”

Sink-Wilkes had moved back to her hometown in North Carolina after about seven years of living and studying in Austin, where she loved cheering on the Longhorns during football season. She wanted to raise her one-year-old daughter, Kennedy, closer to family. With a major in linguistics and a minor in Korean, Sink-Wilkes had plans to teach English in Korea but stayed home after Kennedy was born. “I imagine she would have gone back to work when her daughter was older,” Crim says. “She’s a very smart girl.”

Nine months ago, Sink-Wilkes began treatment for appendiceal cancer. It wasn’t her first bout with cancer, or tragedy: At 10 years old, she endured a rare spinal cancer which carried a very low chance of survival. Just as Sink-Wilkes began celebrating her recovery two years later, her mother died in a car accident. Now, at age 27, her cancer has been pronounced terminal.

After the ceremony, the couple went down to the beach, and Sink-Wilkes was able to walk barefoot in the sand and dip her toes in the water. “The love’s always been there,” she told WTVD, “but to finally get to celebrate that with your family and friends means even more.”

Photo courtesy Lauren Crim.


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