We’ve been living through some very challenging times recently, and stress levels are at an all-time high. The stressors can become overwhelming and can come from many sources, including required COVID precautions, homeschooling, loss of income, isolation from family and friends, on top of the daily doom-and-gloom news. The news seems to be never-ending and can be very uncertain and depressing.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis and facing a challenging treatment regimen compounds this stress exponentially. It can make even the most positive individuals wonder how they can possibly deal with the many obstacles they face.
As a volunteer at my local Tri-Cities Cancer Center, I’ve witnessed the range of emotions and concerns that accompany such a diagnosis, and how devastating and debilitating they can be.
When struggling to find your way in these turbulent times, it helps to focus on keeping things simple. My recommendation is to remember the “Racer!”
The Racer Experience
I grew up in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. As energetic kids, one of our greatest joys was going to our local amusement park—Kennywood. Founded in 1898, Kennywood was a huge park made for pure enjoyment by kids of all ages, from toddlers to second-childhood adults. There were all sorts of activities to enjoy, but the main attractions were always the roller coasters, and the favorite was always the Racer.
The Racer was an old wooden-framed structure that pitted 2 side-by-side roller coasters against each other on each run to see which would ultimately make it through the course first. I never realized it at the time, but thinking back, I realized that 2-minute ride might have been a microcosm of how best to deal with life’s challenges.
Together with my friends, we climbed into the roller coaster car filled with anticipation and excitement, trying to decide if the red or the blue racer had the best shot at winning. The 2 racers left the station and began their long slow climb up the first hill with the tick-tick-tick-tick of the mechanical drive mechanisms straining to lift the roller coasters up the steep grade.
What followed was a hair-raising combination of high-speed maneuvers that mercilessly tossed us around like a rag doll. On the downhills we were plastered to the back of our seat, nearly unable to move from the forces of nature. All the while, the roller coasters’ old wooden frame creaked and groaned under the loads, and certainly gave even the bravest among us some trepidation. We were not in control of our situation, which threatened to separate us from our seat and launch us completely out of the car and into oblivion.
Some of the more daring riders tempted fate at every turn, by standing up in the car or raising their arms above their heads. Others had a white-knuckled grip on the seat restraint bar, feeling it was their last hope for survival. Of course, the guys with dates tried to joke and laugh to impress their date; it wouldn’t look good for them to wimp out at the first sight of danger, even if they were scared spitless.
Throughout the ride, riders in both roller coasters were doing everything they could to cheer their racer on to victory. As the final hill came into view, even if our racer was behind, we were not ever going to give up! The yells and hoots increased in intensity from both sides as the racers topped the rise at a dizzying 8 stories above ground and rocketed downward toward earth at 100 mph!
In actuality, it was probably more like 5 stories high and about 40 mph, but we often seem to view our challenges as greater than they actually are. The wind rushed past our faces, and it was all we could do to hang on, as we accelerated through the turns and tried to keep an eye on the other Racer’s progress at the same time.
Then, as the finish line appeared and the brakes were applied, we realized that we probably had been holding our breath for most of the ride. We took ribbing if our side lost, but in the end, both sides were proud and excited to have faced their fears, and to have done all they could to meet the challenge successfully.
As the bell rang and our seat bar snapped open, the operators instructed folks to exit safely and quickly to the right. It crossed our mind to jump off the Racer and run back to the entry point to repeat the experience again. We really wanted to feel that rush one more time. However, we quickly realized that the line was just too long, and we had other adventures and opportunities yet ahead of us.
Handling Our Challenges
Thinking back over those wonderful times, it seems that a short 2-minute ride on the Racer might have provided a blueprint to follow in dealing with many of life’s challenges. There’s no doubt that life can be difficult, and cancer has a way of complicating it so much more. It can be discouraging, frightening, at times disappointing, and it comes with an uncertain outcome.
However, recognize that you’ve successfully navigated through all your former challenges up to now, and there is no reason that you cannot do it again for your next challenge.
The lessons of those roller coaster rides long ago have suggested to me that we must face uncertainties and difficulties head-on, keeping a positive outlook and never-quit attitude, always focusing on successfully reaching our goals.
Don’t let cancer, or these trying times, beat you down.
If we can each strive to do that, we’ll be able to reflect back on our lives with pride and say, “Wow, what a ride it has been!”