21. Thoughts on Lance

Celebritology is an odd thing. Many people invest a lot in following the trevails of pop culture icons. Their entertainment value. Their personal lives. Even their politics. And when these people fail, we feel badly for those we like and mock those we don't.

So, when Lance Armstrong stopped contesting long-standing allegations that he had used performance-enhancing drugs to win a lot of races, judgment and emotion focused on him. If you thought Lance had been lying all along, you felt a collective "I told you so." If you believed that Lance won all these races on the up-and-up, you defended him.

Here's the problem with viewing Lance through this narrow lens. It doesn't matter as much to cancer survivors like me. That's because the Lance story isn't just about him, it's also about us. It isn't just about how many times a yellow shirt was donned. It's also about having the mental courage and physical strength to battle a life-threatening illness. It's about deciding how to live the rest of your days. It's about supporting others going through the same terrible experience you had.

Whatever his failings. Lance helped us by providing a window through which society could see what cancer is really about...the horrors of the disease and how hard it is to rebuild your life. Before Lance, cancer patients would often stay silent about their disease. After Lance, it became socially acceptable to come out. All those yellow bands weren't a branding of the medically ill, they were a sign to live life to its fullest.

LiveStrong built on this by providing tools that help cancer patients learn more about their disease and treatment options, manage their lives during treatments (trust me, it's an organizational nightmare), and connect with others. If there's a common thread to his work, it's that cancer patients need an extended support system to battle the disease. Based on my experience, that is spot on.

Does all this absolve Lance if he doped his way to the victory stand? Of course not. Cheating is cheating and it's wrong. But just because society raised up Lance to be a saint doesn't mean that he had to be one to validate his cause against cancer. Think about it this way.

For those lucky enough to survive cancer, we feel incredibly blessed. We confronted the very real possibility that we might die soon, and we were given a reprieve. That puts us in a whole different frame of mind. But it doesn't make us better people. After all, when God gave us extended life, he didn't transform us into perfect human beings. He simply gave us another shot, with the opportunity to use our remaining days to do more good than not.

When looked at this way, Lance passes the test. By getting back on the bike, he showed cancer patients how there is life after cancer. That is all we needed. That Lance might have done something wrong to win all those races shows that hubris could have gotten the better of him. That's too bad. But to us, it was never about all those yellow shirts anyway.

Lance is a man who faced cancer, is still living, and trying to do more good things than not. That is the real win in his life...whether he knows it or not.

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Reader Comments (1)

OK, fair enough. But when you have had the strength and courage to get through cancer, get your "second chance" to do some good in the world, show how strong you are, and that you can win the Tour de France, WHY cheat (if he did). Are we expected to look the other way because the cheater is a cancer survivor and has contributed so much? How did you feel about him breaking up with Cheryl Crow during her cancer battle? Right is right and wrong is wrong. This comes from a cancer survivor currently under chemotherapy treatment who expects no special treatment because of it.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDAV

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