Sisters by Birth, Friends by Choice

Lauren McAllister, Kristen’s big sister, found her role and urges other JA siblings to do the same.

“We’re lucky to be sisters, but we choose to be best friends,” says Lauren McAllister of her relationship with her sister, Kristen McAllister.

(L-R) Kristen & Lauren

Kristen began a long and painful journey with juvenile idiopathic arthritis 15 years ago, when she was 10 years old and Lauren was 12. It hasn’t been an easy road.

“It is devastating to watch someone you love have to fight a battle that doesn’t have a cure,” says Lauren. “Where the medications that are supposed to help don’t always help. To have the doctors who are supposed to ‘fix you’ not know what to do. It’s a feeling of helplessness. Not only can I not help her, but neither can the physicians who are supposed to be the ‘fixers.’”

Previously an active child, Kristen had to give up dancing, cheerleading and gymnastics — activities that she had grown up participating in with Lauren.

“Growing up, she would follow in my footsteps and do the same activities I did,” says Lauren. “We started dance, then gymnastics, which we got to do together. It was neat to have those experiences together.”

But arthritis changed their lives. Kristen could no longer follow in Lauren’s footsteps.

“I didn’t know how to walk her through it. I didn’t know what the right words were, and I couldn’t take the pain away,” Lauren says.

Kristen had to choose her own path in this challenging landscape, with Lauren by her side.

“She is unstoppable,” says Lauren. “She has made up in her mind that she’s not going to let this hold her back from doing the things she loves and wants to do. As a family, we’ve backed her 100%. We make it work. She will get out of her wheelchair and crawl upstairs in a restaurant, and we’ll bring the wheelchair around so she can get right back in it.”

(L-R) Lauren & Kristen take a stroll

Lauren goes on: “Something I really admire about her is that she has every reason under the sun to take herself out of situations, not partake in activities or go certain places because it’s harder or inconvenient. But she won’t allow herself to live that way. We’ve been so fortunate with the support of our friends and extended family. We’ve all just wanted her to experience the life a 25-year-old should experience.”

While Lauren and Kristen have chosen to be sisters, they’ve also chosen to take a specific outlook on life. “We choose joy,” says Lauren.

“It’s harder to do on some days than others, and it may be weeks or months later before you find it. But in every situation, we try to find the joy in it. We’ve been through some pretty dark times. But we’ve chosen joy. If you keep looking for it, you’ll eventually find it.”

Arthritis is a life-altering disease for 54 million Americans like Kristen and Lauren. You can help conquer it on Giving Tuesday. Your generous donation fuels life-changing research and resources right away.

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