In early May of 2019 Joel Royce, who currently resides in Lailua-Kona, Hawaii was attending the graduation ceremony of one of his kids. Celebration mode was in full swing, graduation parties were booked and plans for the future dominated conversations. PLUS, Joel was making a trip to Oahu for an updated brain scan. Life contains multitudes, within the same family, week, moment, breath.
Joel has been married to his wife Leslie since September 2003. They have seven children and one on the way! In 2017 a brain scan detected a tumor. On February 13, five days after the scan, Joel was being wheeled down the hospital hallway for resection surgery. Diagnosed with glioblastomas, an incurable brain cancer.
Joel and his family have built a life around their faith. Naturally, it’s been a cornerstone in finding strength and purpose while facing the diagnosis of cancer. Previously Joel served as a pastor and also ran a non-profit organization. When the word “cancer” personally hit their life, the family leaned in. They reevaluated and decided to sale their belongings. Each packed a bag and they made a move to Hawaii on June 19, 2018. The spirit of adventure alive and well. Joel continues to serve in the ministry, but not as a pastor. Getting together with folks to have a coffee and discuss life and struggle, diving into the word, bible study, a time to connect and pray; this is the fabric of life for Joel. Through many avenues Joel seeks the light of life. He even wrote a book available online called, “Get in the Huddle, a Game Plan for Living When Life Hits Hard”.
It can be uncomfortable to understand how fragile and unpredictable life is. Cancer brings this knowledge to the forefront. Prayer and relying on the Lord have helped Joel in the process. In some ways the family has continued on as always. Busy with school and sports. Each family member living their purpose. In other ways, living with cancer has brought up new questions. Joel’s five year old recently asked, “when you go to Jesus will you come back and be my daddy again?” The family adjusts as they go.
Joel has been a member at and recommends both FOE CrossFit in Longview, WA and CrossFit Kona in Kailua, HI. Treatment resulted in the loss of strength and coordination. Especially on one side of his body. Joel knew it would be a long and hard road back, but took on the challenge. He continued to work out and developed techniques to help improve his physical capabilities. During one of his chemotherapy weeks he actually hit a PR. In the middle of receiving treatment Joel started coaching CrossFit. Passing on some of his own strategies and inspiring the men and women he coached to dig deep to find their own personal strength. Joel comments that they were less likely to complain when he was in the room! Joel is a coach at heart and shared the following advice:
Be coachable. (No matter how fit you are, be open to being coached and even scaling back).
Be consistent. (Listen to your body, but stay consistent).
Don’t be afraid to try new things.
In some ways Joel says he still takes his health for granted. Daily life and taking care of his family, serving his community, hitting the gym, work, chores the things of life take over. However, recently some symptoms showed up. Joel learned there may be a potential regrowth and is in the process of additional scans and testing to decide the path forward. Another surgery is possible, but Joel says he’s feeling fine. In the last couple weeks he played on the worship team and shared his testimonial, which was powerful and moving.
There are a few ways Joel has received support. Both his CrossFit and church community have helped financially. The financial burden that comes along with a cancer diagnosis can be significant. Leslie and Joel both have friends that have been exceptional emotional support as well. Letting them share their feelings and experience without inserting advice, judgment or trying to fix it. Giving them the permission to be angry at God or to express doubt. Joel’s friend Trenton, who he met on the big island and his friend Joe, from seminary, have been especially important to him. There have been people how have gone out of their way to check on the kids. To let them talk about the experience or give them rides to practice. This has been especially touching to Joel.
In the gym and in life Joel has gained fortitude. “The way you develop mental toughness is by sticking in there. Putting your best foot forward and putting in the effort. There’s a correlation between working out and life”. The way you do one is the way you do the other. Joel refuses to see himself as a victim to his health. “At the other end (of showing up to your own life with consistency and heart) you are more able to handle bad news, depression, things like that.” Joel knows through experience that he has the heart to keep pressing on.