- Posted January 18, 2013 by
Los Angeles, California
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Lance Armstrong speaks out
It's Not About the Bike
- Jareen, CNN iReport producer
It’s Not About the Bike.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time (nor is it likely the last,) that I have been let down by an athlete that I admired. I grew up an avid baseball player and fan, and had my childhood bedroom decorated with posters of some my favorite boys of summer over the years. For a few seasons, an iconic image of the Oakland A’s “Bash Brothers” (Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco) was displayed proudly upon my wall. Later, Roger “The Rocket” Clemens gazed at me intently from the pitchers mound holding a baseball with a missile wedged within. These players each uniquely inspired me to hit home runs, steal bases, and work on my fastball. A few years later, they were also largely responsible (along with a handful of others) for my adult separation from baseball as I felt betrayed by the proclivity of steroid use in the major leagues. I felt cheated and felt like games that I had watched or players I had supported were suddenly a fraud. Revered records, once held by legends, were illicitly stolen and accomplishments that I once naively admired were suddenly tainted by knowledge that far too many of my boyhood heroes had cheated.
And so it goes with Lance Armstrong. However, this time, the disappointment and betrayal is different. Unlike my baseball heroes, I have actually met Lance Armstrong. From 2004-2009, I was an active supporter and advocate for LIVESTRONG, the cancer foundation that Lance started several years ago. To be honest, I couldn’t care less about cycling. I have the utmost respect for the sport, but have never found it to be particularly interesting to watch. But, on September 5th, 2003, I unexpectedly became a Lance fan. That afternoon, while sitting in the office of a doctor that I had never met before, I was informed that I had testicular cancer. I was 28 years old and felt like I was hitting my stride as a successful young adult, and the news of my diagnosis left me devastated. As I prepared to leave the office and summon the courage to call my parents, the doctor graciously offered me one piece of advice along with my referral. “Go buy Lance Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike. It will give you an idea of what you might have on the horizon and many patients in your situation have found it helpful.” I had little idea at the time how that book would impact my life.
I read Lance’s book from cover to cover in two days. I cried through portions of his story, aware that I was in for the fight of my life and trying to wrap my head around my circumstances. His words carried tremendous weight and his attitude was remarkable. Thankfully, my cancer had been caught early and I did not have to endure the multiple surgeries or various rounds of treatment that Lance endured. When I finished the book, Lance’s story had provided me with knowledge, guidance, hope, and inspiration -- all precious resources to those of us who have been confronted by cancer. And while I continued to be uninterested in professional cycling, I became a supporter of Lance Armstrong.
After my successful treatment was completed, thankfully, my physical health slowly returned. What I was not prepared for, however, was that the specter of cancer would continue to loom for months and years past my physical recovery. For a time, I struggled to process what I had been through and why it had occurred in the first place. I worried about a recurrence or missed cancer cells that may have spread to my lymph nodes. I dreaded dating and the possibility that my fertility had been compromised and I might not ever be a father. And more than anything, I had a new awareness of the prevalence of cancer and how many lives and families it destroyed. A few weeks of treatments at the hospital, in and out of the cancer ward amongst children who are battling the disease, will leave you forever changed. While my doctors had given me a clean bill of health, I found myself carrying a combination of fear, doubt, and anger that bothered me far more than my scars.
In 2006, beckoned by the “obligation of the cured,” I decided that I wanted to get involved in the cancer community. At the time, I was working as a middle school teacher and was deeply touched by a number students at my school that were enduring cancer in their own families. I reached out to Lance’s foundation and applied to attend an education and advocacy Summit that was being held in Austin, Texas. After sharing my own recent diagnosis and my modest teacher’s salary, I was provided with a scholarship that covered transportation, room, and board.
The Summit was incredible. In addition to Lance, we were addressed by Senator John Kerry, Surgeon General Anontia Novello, author Jim Collins, and a cadre of other remarkable speakers and activists. Better yet, I developed a few new friendships that I continue to value to this day. I left Austin energized, inspired, and armed with resources, tools, friends, and new associates that were some of the most amazing people I have ever met.
Over the next two years, with the support of students, families, school faculty, and my community, I developed academic programs that included educational curriculum about cancer, school volunteer opportunities, on-site counseling, political advocacy opportunities, and fundraising endeavors, all through an active support group for students dealing with cancer dubbed Kids for LIVESTRONG. From students that were patients themselves, to students afraid of losing a sibling, parent, grandparent, friend, or coach, they visited my classroom. There, they were connected with countless resources including websites, posters, brochures, yellow wristbands, and survivor notebooks, all provided free of charge by the LIVESTRONG Foundation. They gathered hundreds of gowns and accessories for a special prom event for teens battling cancer. They made cards and drawings for friends and family. They delivered materials and well wishes to recently diagnosed students, parents, and in some cases, even teachers. In a school with 1300 students, our work touched countless families and connected dozens of individuals with valuable complimentary resources and contacts from LIVESTRONG.
In 2008, my fiancé’s father was suddenly diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. We were blindsided and heartbroken. This time, we utilized LIVESTRONG in a much more personal way. The foundation provided us with information on new treatments, clinical trials, and offered tremendous kindness and support. Again, these services were provided to our families free of charge and were invaluable as we collectively fought to extend his battle with cancer beyond our wedding date.
Undoubtedly, I feel betrayed by Lance. I am disappointed to learn that he cheated and that he so vehemently lied about his transgressions. But in a prophetic turn of phrase, I had already learned that, for me, “It’s Not About the Bike.” I remain grateful for Lance. For all of his brashness and arrogance, his desire to be “ruthless and relentless” in his sport stems from the same tenacity with which he has engaged the war on cancer. And since I never really cared about Lance the athlete, I continue to support Lance the cancer advocate and human being. Moving forward, I hope that people will be able to consider Lance the athlete and separate him from Lance, the cancer advocate. Granted, the latter may not have existed without the former, but in my eyes they remain very different men and I only really value the important one.
One in three men and one in two women will have cancer in their lifetime. We will all be touched by this disease one way or the other. Knowledge is Power, Unity is Strength, and Attitude is Everything.
About the Author: After earning his master’s degree in education, Jeffrey Schwartz settled in Los Angeles, where he became an award-winning social studies teacher and created a very successful rock-and-roll history course for middle school and high school students. In 2008, Lance Armstrong awarded Schwartz the LIVESTRONG Award for the programs that he developed in support of students and families battling cancer in Southern California. Schwartz has published two books, The Rock & Roll Alphabet, and Forever Young: The Rock and Roll Photography of Chuck Boyd. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and newborn baby boy, where he works as a music historian and the archive director for the Chuck Boyd Photo Collection.