Lance Armstrong, Susan Komen, and Me

January 20th, 2013

I have had variations on the following conversation ever since I finished treatment:



I know this does not make me popular. I know some of you reading this find me coarse and unnecessarily harsh.

But you how no idea how much pressure there is to be inspiring after cancer.

Perhaps if my initiation into CancerLand had not involved losing somebody dear to me, I may have taken up this mantle and done my best to own the Heroic Survivor story.

But I came in to my diagnosis with the rawness of losing my brother, lending me a take no prisoners attitude against cancer.

I always wanted to know the goriest details. I had no romance for this experience. My oncologist marveled about me early on in my treatment, “You have no denial mechanism.”

So what does all this have to do with two of the most famous cancer patients of our day, Lance Armstrong and Susan Komen?

Like my brother, Susan Komen died at a young age. Her sister Nancy Brinker famously promised™ to help put an end to breast cancer.

I empathize greatly with the young Nancy. I know firsthand the impotence we feel as we watch somebody we love die. I understand the appeal that her organization holds, particularly for those left behind who want to do something in the wake of so much helplessness.

In becoming a legend, Susan Komen ceased to be a full person. Instead she became a symbol for her sister’s wish. Who knows what Susie was really like, since her persona has been carefully crafted by her surviving sister. (Twitter is haunted by a ghost who begs to differ with Nancy’s account of her love of pink and shopping).

Whatever the truth once was, Susan Komen has become the Noble Patient who gave her sister’s life Greater Purpose.

Then there is Lance Armstrong. Like Susan Komen, he was diagnosed with cancer at a young age. Like Susan Komen, he faced Stage 4 cancer. He not only managed to achieve remission, he became a paragon of health, winning the Tour de France an astonishing seven times.

Lance Armstrong became a legend. He beat the unbeatable, the Ultimate Survivor, becoming an inspiration to many who donned yellow bracelets and hoped to be half as lucky as he.

Many of these same people felt betrayed this past week as Lance finally admitted to doping to bolster his performance.

I was not among them.

Personally, I had long seen the limitation in his story as an exemplar: testicular cancer is one of the few cancers that is reversible at Stage 4. But details like that don’t matter in hagiography.

So while I am grateful to Livestrong for drawing attention to survivorship as a phase of cancer with its own needs for medical attention and social support, I am not heartbroken to learn that Lance’s feet are made of clay.

Lance’s legend, like sweet Susie’s, has put undue burden on plain folks like myself whose path to recovery is neither straightforward, triumphant, or full of Hallmark Channel Movie inspiration. (My friend Xeni wryly calls the saccharine survivor genre “cancer porn.”)

Lance, it turns out, is all too real. I am sure Susie was too. Lord knows her sister Nancy is.

So, Well-Meaning People, this is the answer to your question:

My life was rich before cancer took my brother from everyone who loved him.

I had gratitude before I had to go through almost two years of devastating treatments from which I am still experiencing side-effects, social, emotional, financial, and physical.

Am I humbled by my friends’ love for me? Absolutely.

Have I redoubled my commitments to be there for others in their time of need? Undoubtedly.

But, really, Well-Meaning People. This is just a deepening of what already existed for me.

If cancer were eradicated tomorrow, life would still provide plenty of adversity to remind us about what counts.


This entry was posted on Sunday, January 20th, 2013 at 7:39 pm and is filed under Survivorship. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

19 Responses to “Lance Armstrong, Susan Komen, and Me”

  1. January 20, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    My thoughts exactly. I think I love you! LOL!

  2. January 20, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    That is spot on! Thanks for saying what I would’ve said too; just change brother to grandfather and breast cancer to endo. cancer, and I’m in the same way.
    Damn cancer.

    I love the notecard at the beginning too; I’m going to print it out and carry it in my wallet 😉 lol

  3. January 20, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    aka not laka! lol where’d I get that L? 😮 chemobrain sorry 😮

  4. January 21, 2013 at 12:05 am

    I agree with you 100%.

    On the first; cancer is crap and my life is not better or more meaningful for having had it. I am probably (a bit) healthier, but the effects on my children and the ongoing ‘side effects’ far outweigh any mystical life journey I might be embarking on or amazing life lessons.

    On the second point: Nothing Lance says or confesses to changes the great things he has done with Livestrong. Until last week, I was sure he was clean because I just couldn’t believe after the crap of chemo you would continue to poison yourself but for him, his ambition won out. As it turns out, he was not clean. I don’t feel cheated. I don’t expect my cancer survivors to be perfect. He is human, with many flaws. (Including justifying taking testostorone on the basis that he only had one testicle. That made me laugh).

  5. January 21, 2013 at 12:54 am

    Well said….Can’t think of anything I would add!
    Love Alli xx

  6. January 21, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I like how you put it, that the good things are really just a “deepening of what already existed for me.” I can relate to that for love, loss, fear, compassion, friendship, frusteration, and the urge to keep on pushing. Deep down, we’re all just very real people. ~Catherine

  7. January 21, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Beautifully said. Making heroes is a projection of our own needs.

    Lance’s book inspired me when I was sick from treatment. The Livestrong manifesto about survivorship spoke to me when my body and mind felt cut in two.

    The reality of Lance is sad but not suprising. If something is too good to be true….it probably is as we know.

    But I will continue to support LIvestrong. Many equate the organization’s work with its founder; I’m not one of them.

    Thanks for this, Lani.

  8. January 21, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Thank you for this clear and insightful post. The mantle of survivorship can be a heavy one. It can even take on a life of its own. And yes, “If cancer were eradicated tomorrow, life would still provide plenty of adversity to remind us about what counts.” AMEN. — Gayle Sulik

  9. January 21, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    I’m adding an AMEN to the post and I’m adding an AMEN to Gayle’s comment:

    “The mantle of survivorship….. can even take on a life of its own.”

    My response to the question in the box?

    “Nope. Cancer IS a bunch of shit and scanxiety sucks and SOME of us will wind up in the 30% and PTSD and looking over our shoulders…..”

    No meaningful things….. Just learning to live by a new set of rules we must each write for ourselves. And now, trying to stay in THIS moment knowing my own life will be lived in three month intervals…. rewriting my own previously written rules for these unchartered waters because now, my own fears are amp’d up all over again.

    Cancer just plain sucks and it IS that damn simple…..

    Hugs to you, Lani….

  10. January 21, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Perfecto! My favorite line? “But, really, Well-Meaning People. This is just a deepening of what already existed for me.”

    True dat!

    Thank you.

  11. January 21, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    “If cancer were eradicated tomorrow, life would still provide plenty of adversity to remind us about what counts” – EXACTLY. Excellent post.

  12. Realitygal
    January 22, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    High Five sister!

  13. January 22, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Excellent post! You expressed my feelings so well.

  14. January 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Outstanding post. You captured my thoughts exactly. I read Lance’s book on survivorship while I was going through treatment and, I can say, his arrogant tone and how he attributed his survivorship to his mental attitude and physical state were really putting pressure on me to follow in those footsteps. Survivorship shouldn’t be a burden, but it is when we are compared to people who are deified — and whom we discover are all too human — by society.

  15. January 23, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    and you totally rock!!

  16. jane
    January 24, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    i just saw this in the guardian, and am bookmarking your blog. i fully appreciate your honesty!

    the same is true for those of us who are chronically ill and disabled. let me address all the magazine and tv stories of disabled people by saying, no, this illness is not a blessing! and i do not live with a perpetual angelic smile on my face. and no, i didn’t just climb a mountain blind or with no legs – i’m just a human being like you!

    thanks for your blog!

  17. January 25, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    This post is excellent. Well said!

  18. January 27, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Everything you write resonates with me.

  19. February 7, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    I know I told you I loved this post elsewhere, but just for the record, I wanted to say it here: brilliant.

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