Faith, Cancer and Roller Coasters

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by Adam Cruthirds

Adam gave this reflection at EYC Happening earlier this year. It was excerpted in the March Communicator.

I love roller coasters. Not the ones whose sole purpose is to make you nauseous by being jerked endlessly in little teacups. And definitely not the ones that send you hundreds of feet in the air with the only goal to drop you at an unexpected time, making you feel a mix of weightlessness and as if you’re holding a half ton pack of steel on your back.

The roller coasters that I enjoy and ride over and over again until the amusement park shuts down actually last quite a long time. They have unexpected corkscrew movements that can change direction at the blink of an eye, and push the limits of the human body with unimaginable speed and unthinkable heights.

So by now you are probably wondering or whispering to your friend, “What have all these meds and chemo done to his brain? Is he crazy? What does Faith have to do with roller coasters?” Obvious answers that I could explain to you in lousy sentences and without my lovable sense of humor would include…

“Well yes, little Jimmy, you must have faith that you’ll make it to the end of the roller coaster safe and sound”

or

“Great job, Suzie! You do have to have faith in the workers who built it and the ones who maintain it every day”

But I, being the deep thinker and silent observer that I am, just wasn’t content with the responses that curious young Jimmy and little Suzie gave me. My answer to “What does faith have to do with roller coasters?” is this: Life is a roller coaster and without faith, you won’t be able to wait in the seemingly unending line, read the numerous warnings scattered around the ride, or even safely secure your harness with out turning back and heading to the ring toss. That’s not the most in-depth way I can put my mind on paper, but let me give you a glimpse into my beliefs in confidence and faith.

My favorite example of someone showing absolute faith in God is the story of Job. When the devil came, confronted God and asked him who had the greatest faith in him, God showed the devil a man named Job. God then gave his adversary permission to do whatever it wanted to do to test Job’s faith. After the devil took away Job’s family, house and livestock, Job still believed and had faith that God was still present and whatever happens happens for a reason.

So for the next few minutes y’all assume the role of the unsuspecting bystander waiting for the next bus on the bench and imagine I am the pleasantly dressed Forest Gump. But instead of contrasting life to a box of chocolates, I, Forest, will enhance our visualization by considering life, as well as faith, in terms of a much more exciting (and healthier) metaphor, the roller coaster.

Right now, most of you in this room haven’t even edged over the first hill of your coaster. In the mid-teen years your coaster slowly treks to the first drop, with the continuous and usually annoying clicking sound heard underneath the car. We make friends with each other, learning which of our fellow riders are coaster veterans and which ones are about to wet their pants, who are the screamers and who are the ones who will dare to let go of their grip and raise their hands above their heads. This is where most adolescents are, making friends and learning what their interests are compared to the other thrill seekers. This stage of life usually ends at graduation, and the once-confident rider is thrown into the world with just the knowledge and the friends he or she accumulated from the first stage of standing in line, buckling in safely and slowly ascending that first big hill.

But when your coaster reaches the top and dives over the first hill, it can feel like it will never slow down. This is just like being an adult trying to handle multitudes of things while trying to keep your eyes on what kind of dip or dive the coaster will offer you next. At this point, after a single thrill-hill dive, you still feel secure that you have the ability to draw back and learn the ropes of life from the friendships you have made and the lessons you have learned during the slow uphill crawl to the first drop.

Another thing that keeps you tied down on the roller coaster of life is faith in the covenant that God made with us that includes rainbows and other signs of hope. Riders need to trust the relationship that they formed with God to know that God will never do anything to harm them. They need faith and knowledge that God has never broken this promise. Friends, parents and the world might hinder this relationship, but God never will.

No two roller coasters are the same because no two lives are the same. When your life now is very difficult and it is hard to find faith to believe that things will get easier or understand why tough things are happening, you can look at others who have already completed that part of the coaster and have faith that their experience and suggestions will help you make it to the next break in the coaster.

Since July 2014, I, Adam not Forest, made friends with two key people who have taught me tips on how they cope with a rigorous and seemingly unending path that God put in their way. They have taught important things I never imagined I would need to know when I was confidently ascending that first roller coaster hill, like how lemon heads really help with nausea, tricks to manage pain and the importance of making every day count despite frequent setbacks. My faith as well as theirs has especially been tested in the last few months, as they were told that their roller coaster might come to a halt before they coasted into the last smooth stretch. But the tips and inspiration that they have passed on to me are eternal and my faith in God grows by knowing them.

God chose to put me on the Top Thrill Dragster or, as I like to call it, the 41935, a record-breaking feat of the human race that sends unsuspecting people from 0 to 120 in four seconds and then soaring 400 feet in the air.

Last summer, like most of you, I was on the part of the coaster where I was confidently surveying my surroundings, making friends and learning key skills to navigate basic yet challenging parts of life until I would experience the first hill’s drop at my high school graduation in May 2016. But then, on the hot summer evening of July 28, 2014, I was asked to stop by our friends, the Holts’, house around 9 p.m., because my family was over there. I was on a stellar date with Annie in Harbor Town that included sunset and pizza. I wasn’t ready to leave yet, and definitely wasn’t prepared for the sudden first drop in the coaster that was about to happen.

Now, remember my earlier description of my ideal roller coaster that includes sharp turns and sudden drops? Well, I could never have imagined the wild, insane ride that “41935” would offer me. At about 9:04 p.m., my coaster began to take an unexpected dive that most people would never willingly buckle up for, and, thankfully, most will never have to experience, especially with that level of being unprepared for the dive.

At their house, I was told I had Leukemia. I didn’t even know what Leukemia was, much less that it was cancer in my blood. Soon we went home for the night, pretended to sleep a little (because how do you sleep on a roller coaster) and then showed up the next morning at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I was now officially on a roller coaster I didn’t know I was in line to ride and it was already rolling at warp speed.

I was given the Medical Record Number of 41935, the number I register in with at 7 a.m. at least three days a week. It’s the number on my wristband that gets scanned when my chemo gets checked so I receive the right medicines. On that first day the nurses very quickly drew at least a liter of blood from my body. My medical genius doctor from Taiwan, Dr. Pui, told me I would be spending the next two and a half years receiving chemo daily or at least weekly at St. Jude and would return for annual testing for another seven years until the word “cure” will finally be said to me.

I was 16 years old and diagnosed with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  I started my first of 100s of doses of chemo at 3 p.m. the same day.

Soon, faster than you can imagine, my roller coaster’s ups, downs and loop-de-loops took me through unexpected bonus twists and turns like pancreatitis, a pneumomediastinum (which was an air bubble in my chest that felt like my heart couldn’t beat), and, just a few weeks ago, a stricture that required surgery for my esophagus to keep from closing up. Without faith, I wouldn’t just be a doubtful person because I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, I couldn’t have survived this far on the coaster!

Thankfully, two months before diagnosis, I had travelled with my youth group on a spiritual pilgrimage to Germany. I met God there over and over again through my friends, our chaperones and places like Buchenwald, a World War II concentration camp. Talk about unexpected roller coasters! What must it have been like for the people in the Holocaust?

One year before diagnosis, I had participated in Happening and anchored my faith just like you are doing. With the strong faith that I now have in God, I know that I have the strength to make it through the rapid and unexpected ups and downs that are being revealed to me.

And let me tell you, the light at the end of my tunnel is full of fireworks and just as visible as anyone else’s is.

[caption id="attachment_83" align="alignnone" width="577"]Adam Cruthirds, with the Reverend Sandy Webb. Adam Cruthirds, with the Reverend Sandy Webb.[/caption]

Posted by Cara Modisett at 9:06 PM
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