Ordinary Is as Ordinary Does – On Lance and Cancer

“Real is on the rise, F*#k them other guys” – Drake

My Mom and Dad in Halifax moments before starting to bike across Canada

My Mom and Dad in Halifax moments before starting their bike journey across Canada

Don’t worry, I’m not about to throw in my 2 cents on biking or doping. Far better people have already flogged the subject to death. I do, however, have something to say about cancer.

I stopped giving a shit about Lance Armstrong in 2008. While Strachan was sick, I worked with the Cedars Cancer Institute. They are a remarkable group who support patients, research and facilities in Montreal. Executive Director Jeff Shamie – a fantastic ordinary person in his own right -had his sights set on Lance since he started.

He succeeded and Lance has partnered with Cedars since 2008. For a weekend each year, they have invited people to ride, dine and paddle with him.  All told, Cedars has used Lance fever to help raise over $8 million for legitimate cancer causes.

I balked at his appearance fee. Out of respect for Cedars I won’t reveal it. It’s worth it as they have successfully leveraged it to raise much more.  But I cringed that someone would use cancer to maximize his own marketing potential, make millions off of it and then masquerade as a hero while pocketing hard earned fundraising dollars from star struck average joes.

I barfed in my mouth a bit when he demanded a list of pre-approved people he would meet. I lost interest completely when he showed up with bodyguards to keep cancer survivors, family members, medical practitioners and volunteers away. Go ahead and keep me off your list Lance, permanently.

My real biking hero -Lala.  On the same day Lance got paid an appearance fee to ride 109km around Cape Town and fly off in his private jet before the race was over. Lala did it to raise awareness for Hoops 4 Hope on 100 lb mountain bike with a busted seat post and bball hoop attached to the bike.

My real biking hero -Lala. On the same day Lance rode 109km around Cape Town then flew off in his private jet. Lala did it to raise awareness for Hoops 4 Hope on a100 lb mountain bike with a busted seat post and bball hoop attached.

I understand that we need heroes, but Lance has done as much for cancer patients as the Kardashians have for young girls. He believed the hype and acted better than other people and the disease.

Lance didn’t defy odds, he got lucky. By allowing the world to believe he conquered cancer like he did the Tour de France, he reinforced a dangerous message. Millions die of cancer every year (7.6 in 2008). If you are among them, is it because you failed to conquer?

My brother fought cancer for 21 months before he passed. He didn’t fail at anything. He woke up every single one of those mornings and faced it like a warrior. His wife did too. I don’t expect to see anything so inspiring again and have never, ever been more proud to be his sister.

When diagnosed with cancer, you are told immediately that attitude is half the battle. We put our gloves on. If this needed character, we had it. If he himself needed an off-day, the rest of us had the will to make up for it. We even took his B positive blood type as a message.

My only regret through Strachan’s illness was not encouraging him to contemplate his mortality. I was too scared that talking about it meant giving up and too busy cheerleading to know if he did too. I’m sorry if he had to protect us from a hard process or deal with it on his own. I’m even more sorry if he ever felt like a failure for it.

Death and disease should humble the very strongest among us. So on behalf of someone who lost the best person I know to cancer, you’re a dick Lance.

For the people who feel like they lost a cancer hero in Lance, there are so many better ones out there. Here’s just a few:

My Dad (in a unitard), Todd and Stu during the Make a Difference marathon  in a cycling unitard at the exact spot Terry Fox ended his Marathon of Hope

My Dad (in a unitard), Todd and Stu during the Make a Difference marathon in at the exact spot Terry Fox ended his Marathon of Hope

Terry Fox, the real Canadian hero, ran a marathon a day across Canada on one leg, the other amputated due to bone cancer. He wore tattered sneakers, had a one-man support team and a fruit-sized tumor in his lung. I had to explain him at University in the USA – “He didn’t make it?” Nope, he died half way. His foundation has raised $600 million for cancer since.  Strachan ran the Terry Fox run the week he re-lapsed with a football sized tumor in his chest.  We run it every year.

Lynny with her 4 girls at Tasha's (turquoise dress) wedding. Her Dad wasn't there to walk her down the aisle but they figured out how to miss him and have fun all at once.

Lynny with her 4 girls at Tasha’s (in turquoise) wedding. Her Dad wasn’t there to walk down the aisle. They missed him but had fun too.

Dr. Norm Saunders, legendary Toronto pediatrician, father of 4 and husband to my favorite Granny was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer at 55 and given 6 months to live. Afterwards, he fought the government to provide patients with a life-extending drug, on principal.  He could afford to pay for it, but others couldn’t. He won. He also raised $1.4 million for children with complex illnesses before he passed away at 60.

Gwen (left) on stage at a cancer summit with Lance (right). Time to pass the mic.

Gwen (left) on stage at a cancer summit with Lance (right). Time to pass the mic I say.

 

Gwen Nacos, my friend and mentor, was diagnosed with stage 4 bladder cancer while pregnant and given a 10% chance. 29 years later, she is a business dynamo, wears fur and drinks designer coffee.  She founded Cedars CanSupport, has raised at least $15 million and puts in 40 hours a week to fight like a (highly organized and effective) pit bull for the cause. I met her following a gratuitous introduction about how she survived cancer, she looked me in the eye and said ‘forget that nonsense, it’s dumb luck’.

My parents, who lived out their worst fear and are left to face the emptiness daily. The struggle to find new meaning is relentless. They do it anyways, because they’re still here. Or the chubby guy down the street who you have never noticed. He underwent chemotherapy 10 years ago, sings out of tune, never misses his kid’s soccer games and defies doctor’s orders by eating a bit too much steak because he loves it. He now knows what life is really about. It ain’t the Tour de France.

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22 thoughts on “Ordinary Is as Ordinary Does – On Lance and Cancer

  1. Amazing. I knew your brother at McGill and thought the world of him. I didn’t even realize that he was sick and then one day heard that he had died. We need more people like Strachan in this world.

  2. This was amazingly well-written. You are so right about it all. I so enjoyed reading it-even shed a couple of tears. No one (myself included) has ever been able to describe for me what I felt after my dad died. You did. I have always felt some form of guilt since he died but have never been able to pinpoint why. After all, I had been there with him every step of the way. Reading your blog was like waking up for me. I realize the guilt came from never having spoken to him about dying and how he felt about it. You showed me that. I will be forever grateful to you. Thank you.

    • Sorry for the slow reply Laurelle (I’m still learning this blog stuff!). I’m glad you were able to find some healing through this. Sometimes it just takes hearing something in a slightly different way to trigger a new understanding. I’m sorry to hear about your loss, but am sure that your Dad understood the challenges and would never want you to feel guilty, the same way my brother would never want us to. If you were there every step of the way, you were putting love into action. That, in my opinion, is the greatest gift possible.

  3. Well said Aimee-Noel…absolutely incredible. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I need to get myself following your blog…not sure how I missed it!

  4. I know talking about death scares a lot of people. My parents wanted to talk about death to my brother, whilst my brother and sister in-law provided support to their 1 year old son (diagnosed with AML at 11 months of age). I think it was my parents way of coping with the possibility of death, since they had already lost a grand-daughter, another of my brothers children, who died from SIDS at the age of 10 months. The mere hint of a conversation about death split my family apart. That 1-year old son is now 6. I agree, even if he died back then, he was never a failure. To have week-long chemo sessions regularly over 6 months; anyone who can endure a single session is a hero. My brother and sister in-law for dealing with the hourly vomiting and diarrhea, etc, etc – my heroes. My nephew had 23 platelet transfusions; so everyone who gives blood on a regular basis, and those special people who go into the hospital on Christmas eve for emergency blood donations are heroes. Donating bone-marrow to someone you don’t know (for no financial benefit!) – the world needs more of these special types of heroes.

    Talking about death, if you get the chance make sure you watch “I am breathing” – there will be screenings this year. The film is about Neil Platt – who dies of Motor Neurone Disease. He talks about death. He talks about the struggle of writing a letter and preparing a box of things for his recently born child – to help his child know about his Dad. There is a preview here: http://www.iambreathingfilm.com/ . I think talking about death is a challenge. As an example, most people don’t even have a clue what to say to someone who just experienced death. So to talk about death… that is a tough journey. But in the end, being there is just as important.

  5. I’ve never met you but found your writing so touching. I also lost my boyfriend oh 13 years to cancer 6 mos ago. What you said about your brother was profound , you put into words what I have struggled with- and the same regret – thank u for putting my own grief into words for me.

    • Thanks Randi and sorry to hear about your loss. If it helps at all – the healing journey gets a little bit easier with time. After 5 years I never miss him or love him any less, but have learned to move forward with it. And do yourself a favor and stop regretting – it is true that hard times can bring out the best in us, but they don’t magically make us perfect or able to anticipate everything. I’m sure you did everything you could and he knew that.

      • Thanks for your reply, actually just read it, and it is very helpful-more than u will know:)

  6. I am sorry it has taken me so long to read this. I am, and always have been, impressed with your honesty and the rawness through which you express it. Thanks for the great read.

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  8. This blog really touches home with me. My aunt, for the record AN AMAZING WOMAN in her own right, was just diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer 2 weeks ago. It has already spread to her lungs and liver. She will be starting chemo today or tomorrow. I have been on the web for hours at a time since then trying to wrap my head around all this chemo stuff, pic lines, side effects, what will happen if at the end of this 3 month chemo cycle nothing improves. Its endless. Your post and the many responses have added a human element to this, and I must thank you for that. I try not to thThis blog really touches home with me. My aunt, for the record AN AMAZING WOMAN in her own right, was just diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer 2 weeks ago. It has already spread to her lungs and liver. She will be starting chemo today or tomorrow. I have been on the web for hours at a time since then trying to wrap my head around all this chemo stuff, pic lines, side effects, what will happen if at the end of this 3 month chemo cycle nothing improves. Its endless. Your post and the many responses have added a human element to this, and I must thank you for that. I try not to think about what the outcome might be, and its hard to keep positive. After reading your post, I can rest assure that this is a warrior`s disease, and only the powerful can go through it.

    Thanks again for your post, i look forward to reading more.
    Tracey

  9. Pingback: Life as a Female Soccer Player - insoccer.ca

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