Choose Joy

Seeking Jesus in this crazy journey

A message to all the Pray-ers and Do-ers

If you’ve read many cancer blogs, they’ll inevitably post the blog about “what’s helpful and what’s not” / “what not to say to someone with cancer” / “how to really help”.

I didn’t want to be that person.  Because I KNOW I’m going to put something on here and you’re going to be like “Ahh, I’ve done that/ said that and Alissa must’ve hated it.”  Lots of people have said lots of things to me.  Some of them have been more hilarious than helpful, but I know the intentions behind them were always good.  I know that you guys are navigating the sticky situation of when and how to bring up cancer topics.  I know you want me to get better.  I know that there’s always a lingering question of who knows what and did I say too much.

It’s okay.

This is our way moving forward, and we’d love to invite you into it.

We’ve prayed for healing for 6 years.  We still trust that God could choose a miracle and we’d love that.  We also recognize that incredible role of his sustaining healing and pray for continued sustenance for as long as he provides it.

A long time ago, I had a picture of God holding the sun in the sky for us to get the work done that he’d given us to do.  More recently, I had the same picture, but the sun was setting.  As we’ve had these really hard appointments and conversations with our medical team and our people, we’ve come to terms with this.  The logical, medical progression is that I will die from this.  We are so sad and are grieving/ will continue to grieve this.  You can be sad too.  But it’s also okay to accept it.

We’re very happy for you to pray as God leads you in your own prayer times, but with us could you pray for sustenance, for energy, for appetite, and for an ease in pain.  (Praying for healing is such a God-honouring prayer, but it is also hard for us.)  Would you pray for us to have great time together as a family for as long as possible, to make meaningful memories with the people closest to us, and to finish well.

When you’re with us, it’s fine to have those deep talks and to ask us how we’re doing.  Obviously we need that.  I do a lot of my processing externally, so I like to talk it out.  But I also like to talk about you!  I think sometimes people feel like their struggles aren’t as struggle-y, so they shouldn’t burden us with them.  We want to share your life like you share our’s.  Also, I’m a planner, so bear with me while I plan out the seemingly morbid details of the next coming months.  To me, it’s helpful.  If it’s not helpful to you, it’s ok for you to peace out of those conversations.

And sometimes let’s just pretend there is no cancer.  Let’s just have fun and make memories together.  Ask us “what’s up?” and let’s talk about our weekends.  Let’s go out for coffee and talk about our bratty kids and how much we hate PD days and how I still think you should become a foster parent and reminisce about how we looked in grade 8.   [Interesting Fact: Did you know, you can still have fun and laugh when you’re dying?  True story.]

We’re having these hard talks with our kids (so be sensitive around them), but we’re also trying to make these months good and not filled with fear.  Maybe I’ll write about that sometime, but please talk with your kids (the kids who I love and who have loved me throughout this journey) and let them know they can talk to me if they want.  We want this process to glorify God and draw people (kids and adults) closer to him, so let’s walk together in what it looks like when God’s answer to our prayers is ‘no’.  (PS. I’m okay with your kids’ awkwardness.  It’s not going to wreck me.)


Part of accepting where we’re at in our journey is recognizing that we have learned a lot about different health strategies.  We feel pretty good with where we’ve landed.  We’ve gone through so many appointments, so many pills/ chemos/ radiations/ surgeries, so many attempts to fight this cancer.  We know there’s always another thing we could try, but honestly I’m pretty tapped out from the fight.  We want to remember my last year as fondly as we can, packed full of skipping school and eating ice cream and going on fun road trips.  You can love us by joining us in that.

Probably the most practical thing that you can do to help us out is bring a meal.  I’m feeling pretty sick, pretty consistently – but I still have a family who thinks eating is a good idea.  If you just text me a few days in advance and offer a meal for a certain day, I’ll let you know if it’s helpful.  Some days are regularly covered (Thursdays) (THANK YOU!!) or if my dad is here, he does his whole master chef thing.  But if I know food is coming a few times a week, it’s a weight off.  (Alternatively, I won’t say no to a freezer meal if that’s easier.)

If you want to help us, then do it.  We’ll love it!  Think of something that makes sense to do and offer that up to us.  Asking us to let you know if we ever need anything will probably not have a huge response rate because accepting help is hard, but asking for it is even harder.

We’re grateful we have people who care enough about us to read another silly blog and try to meet us where we’re at.  We love y’all so much.  I hate that you need to navigate this with us and hope you find ways to “come to terms” with it all too, however that looks.

With much love,

Alissa & Carey


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The Greatest Gift

On May 30, 2017 I got home just in time for the doorbell to ring.  Probably the sweetest sound of my recent life.  In that little envelope, a letter “To the adoptive parents, Carey & Alissa Sanders”.  An official adoption order, with a judge’s signature and a date.  What a good, good sight to these anxious eyes.

We’ve been so (im)patiently awaiting this mail.  It had been in court for 12 weeks and 2 days.  Everyone we know (and many we don’t) had been keenly praying.  I’d been posting on adoption forums and emailing our workers for current timelines somewhat relentlessly, desperately hoping for encouragement that it would be soon.

It had been over a year since their Band released them for adoption, months since we’d signed finals, and yet the process was taking FOREVER.  They had been with us for 1245 days at this point.  They’d been in care, respectively, for 2346 and 1729 days.  They’d both been ‘adoptable’ from a legal standpoint for 1860  and 1368 – meaning they both could have been adopted before they were 2 years old.  They’d had another family fight to adopt them, unsuccessfully and with much heartbreak, prior to us stepping up over two years ago.  Our agonizing wait came to an end, because of a lot of advocating, intense documentation, and striving to keep their file on the top of the pile for each and every overloaded caseworker, supervisor, manager, advocate, band member, and judge.

And then it came.  They were adopted.  I read the two pages ten times.  The date.  The judge’s name.  The word ‘adopted’.  The fact that they are ‘Sanders’.  I cried happy tears and thanked Jesus.  We are forever.

There is so much gift in that alone.  There is assurance for them that they will never have to be moved again.  There is the gift of our kids, the unique and beautiful creation of our family.  (People say that “they’re so lucky to have you” but adoption is not lucky.  Kids go through a lot of brokenness to get to the point of needing to be adopted.  Do every foster and adoptive parent the favour of skipping the word “lucky” or “blessed” unless it’s that WE are blessed to have such beautiful kids. ||End Rant||)

But for us, there was this extra gift in the timing of getting these adoption orders.  The next day, we sat at the Cross Cancer Institute for 7 hours while numerous members of a multi-disciplinary team came in and did their questionnaires and assessments.  They used words like “goals of care” and “quality of life” and “palliative”.  We tried to figure out how to control the symptoms, manage the pain, and discussed (at my prodding) end of life.  She told me it would be realistic that I had less than a year to live and to do things “sooner than later” if they were important.

God knew how hard this appointment would be; it lacked any feelings of hopefulness or resilience.  And so the day before, he gave us a little package in the mail that radiated hope and joy.  It was a gift that we could cling to the next day during some of those hard moments and during discussions of so many unknowns.  One thing was certain; we know our family is secure.  We signed paperwork that listed our dependants and confidently checked off the box that they are legally adopted.  What a GIFT!!

And so again, as we step out of some of the darker days of our journey and in general reflect on the really hard parts of our story, we can say without any doubt that we are experiencing God’s hand of provision.  We are comforted again and again by his character – his sustaining power, his sovereignty, his love.  But this time he gave us a tangible (hold it and read it and keep it sacred) gift and we are so thankful.

Praise Jesus.

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A garment of praise.

A garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

I could say the last few weeks have been marked by a spirit of despair.

This chemo is taking a toll, physically and emotionally. I feel exhausted – from the trips to the Cross, from the symptoms, from the unending meds, from the challenges of doing life while sick. My heart has felt heavy; my tears have come easily. I feel like my body is failing me and I am simultaneously failing everything else.

A spirit of despair.

Oh, how I don’t want to dwell in despair. We have prayed for 6 years that this cancer wouldn’t dictate our lives. We have strived to live fully and meaningfully and to choose joy during heartache. But in honestly, that is especially hard right now.

Last night, I had a big cry with Carey. Today, my dad babysat and I went to work; three friends took time to listen and pray. My sweet friend dropped by with ice cream and her kids picked me out flowers. I texted another friend who also did chemo Monday and we exchanged sad, sick selfies and cared about each other. Yet another friend from our girls’ small group texted out a “how’s everyone’s week?” as a reminder for us to be in our Bibles, listening to the Holy Spirit, and spending time with Jesus.

(Have I mentioned that I have the best people?)

So I (hypothetically) opened my ( Bible. I read a favourite passage, Isaiah 61.  “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

I am the brokenhearted. But he promises beauty. Joy. And a garment of praise. I don’t think I can get there all on my own, but I have the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord.

Tonight I am thankful for the people who walk these hard days with me. I am thankful for the many who lift me up in prayer when I feel too weary to do that for myself. And I am thankful for a faithful God who hears these petitions and gently draws me back into his presence where I can receive the things he wants to give me, where I can put on the garments of praise, where I can say (Isaiah 61:10): I delight greatly in the Lordmy soul rejoices in my God.”


Life on repeat

It is like our life over the last year is playing on a loop.

The cancer has changed. Start a new treatment. Struggle with the side effects; figure out our supports; get in a groove. Do a scan. The cancer has changed.

4 different “plans of action” that have lasted a few months each over the last year a bit.

A fairly steady stream of bad news. An extremely exhausting process of sorting out how this will look in our day-to-day. And a lot of emotions that come with my treatments and my body failing me.

And, yet, we serve a God who is not failing us. There is there something that I cannot put into words. Psalm 73:26 says “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” We get the privilege of EXPERIENCING that. It is not a random verse; it is our truth. It is something we KNOW because when all our circumstances give us reason to be bitter, our hearts feel strengthened and at peace. That is some Jesus-level sustenance, right there.

All of that said, we are disappointed. Every time we are optimistic that this one could be “the one” (like a cinderella-story for cancer!) and when it’s not, that is a bit crushing. So right now, we are processing and planning and moving forward, hoping that this loop is a bit longer than the last. 🙂

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Saying yes to a “bad idea”

In so many ways, we knew that agreeing to a new foster placement was a bad idea.  I’m doing chemo.  Sometimes I get sick.  I take a million naps.  It’s busy caring for our 2 and we’re already receiving a lot of help.  Our lives are busy with our current circumstances and our hearts our full, so why take on more.

When we got the first call for a new foster care placement, twin toddlers, we laughed.  We get a fair amount of calls and none of them have materialized, so we kind of put this out of our minds.

Two weeks later, we got the same call, but with a little more desperation and a lot more info.  We started praying.  We pleaded with God to speak to us clearly, to open or close the doors, to give us a united decision.

We talked to our people and processed the hesitations they shared.  “It will be a lot.”  Yes.  “Do you have enough energy?”  I don’t know.  “How will the boys do?”  Good question.

They were all good points that we’d thought about A LOT.  That we’d prayed about a lot.  Tears were shed thinking about saying yes and tears were shed thinking about saying no.  We thought about how it would effect us and our existing support system.

We processed these concerns with the workers along the way.  They thought they might have another family and we released the idea of these kids and told them to pursue their other leads.

It didn’t pan out.

We put in a request for supports and they said no.  We agreed that we couldn’t do it without some supports, so we released it a second time.

Then they came back and approved it.

It felt like we were laying out fleeces, like Gideon in Judges 6, and God was demonstrating his might and his control.  The kids were a good fit with our other kids’ ages, our giftings, and our passions.

We listened to sermons, read some books and blogs, and tried to listen to Jesus’ voice through it all. But our decision-making period was coming to a close.

We both felt like saying yes, but didn’t want to say yes on a whim or because we felt guilty or at the expense of our relationships.  Yet we both know the Bible is very clear about caring for the vulnerable and the orphaned.  We both know that God has clearly called us into the role of foster parents.

But was he calling us into it in this specific moment?

Here’s the things we realized.

We partner with a little community in the DRC.  We have visited and seen grandmothers caring for their grandkids.  You can’t tell me that the road they walk is easy.  They model what it looks like to care for orphans.  They show us what it is to sacrifice.  And they do it at a cost to themselves and their families.  We love them and support them, and we can’t say that in one sentence and then say that we aren’t willing to do similarly.  We don’t believe that the Bible’s call to care for the vulnerable or that the Gospel itself is written in terms of cultural context.  We know it and we are willing to take some steps to live it out more generously and sacrificially and joyfully.

We never felt a peaceful release from this specific calling.  And I may be sick, but I am not dead – so if we said no and if I live for 5 or 10 or 30 years, then I have to look back on this moment and give an account for my disobedience.  And my only reasons would be our own fear of the future.

We’ve prayed for physical healing for years.  And God has sustained my health faithfully.  There have been ups and downs, but we have praised him for his goodness in my health journey.  I sometimes question why I have not received full physical healing, and then I realized that saying yes to this placement could be a step of faith.  It could be God calling us to “step out of the boat onto water in which we will surely sink in our strength”.  But, oh!  We trust in a God who is so much bigger than our own strength or our own plans or our physical ailments.  He tells us to fix our eyes on him.  He tells us to focus on today and trust him for tomorrow.  He tells us to love God and love people.  So yes.  With my little sliver of faith, we said yes, and prayed that he would grow our faith through what we think is a little act of obedience.

And lastly, the need is there.  Carey said “If there were more people to do this, then maybe not.  But we’re not going to say no and see kids go to a group home or be split up.”  These sweet littles don’t get a say in their history or their future.  We have the ability to step up.  We actually have the privilege of stepping up.

And so I’d encourage you, especially those of you within the Church, to do as we did and think about what God is calling you into and process what makes it seem like the wrong timing or a “bad idea”.  Maybe, just maybe, hidden in there is an opportunity to step out in faithful obedience and experience a bit more of Jesus.

We did, yesterday, at 1:30 in the afternoon when we opened the door and welcomed two sweet new faces to our family.




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Beauty from Brokenness

My church made a little video of our family and our story. God is good.

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