So if you hadn’t already heard my screams of elation, I wanted to let the blogosphere know that I am cancer free and done with treatment! My last radiation treatment was on October 10, and I am so incredibly excited to start this new chapter of my life called survivorship. I, of course, ordered a special t-shirt for the occasion.
I’m not going to lie, I still have my emotional and physical struggles. The rest of my life is just beginning and its going to be a long journey. However, I’m happy to report that I’m now going into the office most days and am doing pretty well. I also started the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, which provides a free gym membership to cancer survivors for three months, along with twice a week small-group training sessions with other cancer survivors under the direction of oncology-certified personal trainers. The program acts as a duel-purpose work out and support group. Which brings me to the topic of this blog entry: LIVESTRONG.
As a self-respecting, cancer-surviving Austin-ite, I can’t pass up the opportunity to blog about the LIVESTRONG Challenge that took place in Austin this weekend. I wasn’t able to participate since I’m still in recovery, but it’s certainly something to celebrate and aspire to. Challenge participants choose between 18-mile, 65-mile and 100-mile bike courses in order to raise money for LIVESTRONG (a.k.a Lance Armstrong Foundation.) LIVESTRONG is an Austin-based nonprofit organization that raises awareness of cancer and addresses issues facing cancer fighters and survivors. 4,300 hundred cyclists participated in this year’s Challenge, creating the largest cycling event in Austin history, and raising $4 million for LIVESTRONG. An amazing feat, right?
Sadly, what is making more headlines is that LIVESTRONG founder and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the foundation last week due to the findings of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into allegations that Armstrong doped during his cycling career. Soon after Lance Armstrong’s resignation, many of his sponsors also discontinued their relationship with him. Thankfully, most sponsors – including Nike—maintain their support of LIVESTRONG. Sadly, some donors have decided they want their money back, feeling they were duped by Lance Armstrong.
I was lucky to have an opportunity to talk with CNN on this topic, which can be viewed at http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2012/10/21/blackwell-lance-livestrong.cnn. None of my sound bites were used, but my fellow Team Survivor members did a wonderful job expressing the feelings of many people in the cancer community.
All I can really do is explain to you my experiences with LIVESTRONG. LIVESTRONG is probably the organization that has been the best at helping me navigate through the cancer waters. The people benefiting from the foundation are people like me. Cancer fighters and survivors and their families. Not Lance Armstrong. He didn’t even take a salary for his position.
The foremost purpose LIVESTRONG has served for me is as a central location of information. I cannot express to you how many organizations serve cancer patients. It is exhausting and impossible to sift through absolutely all of them. What LIVESTRONG does is provide information to help navigate you to the resources that will help you, an individual in a very specific and unique situation. The issues that affect me as a 25-year-old Hodgkin’s survivor who was just diagnosed this year, are not going to be the same as what a 45-year-old breast cancer survivor, 10 years out of treatment faces. LIVESTRONG gets that. They do the leg work for us, so we don’t have to. They help us save time, money and energy, so we can use those resources to beat this disease.
Like I discussed in my entry, IVF with Cancer, one of my first encounters with LIVESTRONG is when they navigated me to their FertileHope program that provides cancer patients free or low-cost IVF, egg and sperm banking options. They provide funding to partner clinics to make these programs possible. They also direct patients to other clinics and organizations that offer similar services. They give us something that is priceless: options. I opted to stay with my own healthcare system, but my friend Victoria would never have found her clinic if it hadn’t been for the LIVESTRONG navigation system. Since then, they have helped me find support groups, and most recently the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program.
Lance Armstrong’s story still remains an inspiration to me. He put a face to young adult cancer for the world. He showed the world that a young, vibrant athlete was just as susceptible to this illness as anyone else. And he showed me that there is more to life as a cancer survivor than just surviving. That life after cancer does not have to be any worse. Hell, it can even be better. Cancer survivors can go on to achieve and even exceed their dreams. Or even completely change them. Not only did he do that, but he used his fame to create a very effective foundation to advocate for cancer patients and survivors. LIVESTRONG brought the WHOLE cancer community together in a way that it wasn’t before. He didn’t form an organization just for the testicular cancer community. He formed an organization for the ENTIRE cancer community. All four of us that participated in the CNN interview had different forms of cancer: colon, breast, cervical and Hodgkin’s. Two of the women are long-term cancer survivors who had many more challenges in their own cancer journey because they did not have LIVESTRONG when they were going through similar issues. As I’ve said many times, I’m incredibly blessed for a multitude of reasons, but one of them is because I live in a day and age that organizations like LIVESTRONG exist. Because people like Lance were vocal about their experiences and did something about it, we have more options and more resources to address cancer-related issues like infertility, depression, and decreased fitness, just to name a few.
One of the reasons I blog and volunteer for things like CNN interviews is because of the example set for me by people like Lance Armstrong. You never know whose life you might impact just by being vocal about your story and putting yourself out there to the extent that you’re comfortable with. As Victoria says, just saying “I’m 25 and I received a cancer diagnosis,” is powerful. Because I’m vocal about my experience, my friends have become more aware of their own health. My husband has had moles removed that turned out to be pre-cancerous. I’m able to help and learn from others who have similar challenges, and vice versa. At the end of the day, what I’ve learned is that its not just about surviving, it’s about living and being happy and achieving your dreams and making new ones and to reach out to and accept help from other human beings along the way.
That’s what it means to LIVESTRONG.