Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Other Cyclist with Cancer

The other day pedaldork, one of my favorite commenter's wrote,

"Spence, At one time I admired Lance Armstrong for the way he took on cancer.
I must say though, you have now taken his place. I never thought someone I have
never met could make such a difference in the lives of others. You're definitely
making a difference in mine. I'm looking forward to riding with you in the near
future. Keep fightin' and writin'. God Bless"

I have to say that was a huge compliment that went straight to my head. It is also not the first time that I have been compared to Lance Armstrong. I've got to say that I have terribly mixed feelings about Lance and I thought I would try to hash them out today. A few months ago Elden, AKA Fatty over at Fat Cyclist made what I thought was a great point. He said in a nutshell that he is no fool, which any of us who read his blog know, and that it is pretty clear that Lance either has absurdly super human powers or he was cheating by using EPO Human Growth Hormone and god knows what else when he won 7 Tours de France in a row. There is no solid evidence to support that except for this. Every single competitor that was on the podium with him and most of the competitors in the top 10 have all been either busted for doping or have been implicated in doping scandals. Now Armstrong pretty much rode circles around those other racers who we now know were doped to the gills. That just seems too unlikely that Armstrong was not doping.

Elden went on to say that none of that matters to him as his wife Susan is battling cancer. The amount of help that the Lance Armstrong Foundation has given to his family overrides any ill feelings he may have toward Lance as a racer and representative of the cycling community. I would like to at this point to echo that sentiment. The LAF has been instrumental to my recovery in many ways, in particular by providing the Lotsahelpinhands website tool that allows us to schedule and match all of my families needs with all of our volunteers.

I still feel the need to say more about the subject. First of all there is more damming evidence against Armstrong. A number of his team members from back in the days of US Postal Service have come forth and admitted to doping and talked about a culture of doping on the team. Armstrong has lashed out at any accuser with lawsuits and threats and reprisals. And on a more personal level, Lance left Sheryl Crowe about two weeks before she announced publicly that she had breast cancer.

As a fan of professional road racing I have to acknowledge that the sport has come a long way in the last couple of years and seems to be making great progress at confronting the problem of doping head on. More so than any other professional sport. I am very proud of teams like Slipstream Chipotle and CSC that are trying hard to confront the doping problem head on. But I fear that there is another shoe to drop in the doping wars. That shoe is the eventual discovery that Armstrong was doping all through the seven years that he won the TDF. I fear what will happen to the sport that I love when that happens.

I have never met Lance Armstrong but I have read most of his books as well as a couple of books about him. From what I have read I am a very different person than him. First off I am a puddin'. Even if I had the physical attributes that it would take to win the Tour De France, I certainly don't have the attitude. I enjoy life too much to devote 100% of it towards a single goal. As a parent I could never spend the months away from my children that he did to win those races. It would just be too much for me.

But as a cancer survivor I understand the urge to fight. With everything that I have. I will use any and every drug that the doctors suggest to fight this disease. I will do everything in my power to win against this evil infection and show it that I am tougher than it. In sporting, there is a limit to what someone will do to win when you cross a certain limit, you are cheating. But when it comes to cancer, there is no cheating. There is only winning. I must win. The only other choice is death. So I will do whatever I have to do to win. I will feel done with the cancer battle not when the doctor tells me that I am in remission; but when I have regained my pre-cancer level of fitness. I anticipate that will take a couple of years from now. So at what point am I cheating, if I am still using medical enhancements to reach that goal?

I am a 41 year old man with the judgement and wisdom of someone that has lived that long. I will be very very tempted to use whatever I can to get back to that level of fitness. When Lance battled cancer he was in his 20's and doping was at its peak in pro-cycling. Cycling was also his ticket out of a hardscrabble existence in the forgotten backwoods of Texas. It is widely known that many of the performance enhancing drugs that cyclist use to boost their blood are the very same drugs that cancer patients use for the same end. The temptation must have been very very strong for him.

People are unique, we all experience life in different ways. Having cancer is for anyone a major life experience. Each cancer patient has a different way of reacting to the challenge. My belief is that the world is a safe place and that good will come from this experience. That belief has already gotten me a long way through the experience. I have an incredible support group the likes of which I doubt anyone has ever had. And I have already been given so many gifts. The result is that no matter how I am feeling, I wake each day with an overwhelming sense of gratitude that gets me through each day. I do see getting through cancer as a battle but not in the sense that you might think. I see it as a battle of attitude. It is so very important to me that my attitude stay positive, that I continue to value the things that are important to me, that I continue to see the world as a safe place and that I continue to care about the welfare of my family and community. If cancer takes that away from me then I will lose the battle. I don't want to make a judgement about how anyone else chooses to deal with cancer but I think that attitude is quite different than the way that Lance chose to fight cancer.

When I am back on the bike, I will proudly ride in LAF events and will raise money for the LAF. I will work on my own to support my community in hopes of giving back what I have received. I take comparisons of myself and Lance Armstrong as compliments, after all he is the poster boy for beating cancer. With that said, I see myself as a very different person than Lance. I see my attitude toward life as very different than Lance. I see my battle with cancer as being very different than Lance's. I just want to get through this with as much panache as possible, to share the experience with as many people as possible in hopes that others will learn and grow from it. When I am done, I want to give back as much goodness as I have received through the process.
I don't really know if any of this makes any sense but, there it is.
Thanks for reading


Judi said...

Beautiful post Spencer!! You have the best attitude, a WIN WIN WIN attitude and that's so important. Kick ass buddy.

bikesgonewild said...

...spencer, you make total sense w/ that post & panache is your middle name, bud...

...although my 'battle' was different, i fully understand your take on the 'lance thing'...lance was going for #4 the july i was in the hospital & he was a huge inspiration to me...all the ugly accusations hadn't yet reared their heads & seeing him throwing it down that hard definitely helped me in a way thats hard to understand if you don't need that kind of inspiration... a life & death situation you choose your tools carefully & w/ the best knowledge at hand... now i can only but wonder & feel like maybe i was betrayed while at the same time i still have a begrudging respect for the man & his accomplishments & a ton of respect for the 'foundation'... judi sez: 'kick ass, buddy'...

Pedaldork said...

Hey Spence,
As usual another awesome write up. I wonder as Lance grows older if he regrets the sacrifices he made (kids, wife, etc) to get where he is. I agree you are nothing like him. Though I am a fan of his, I would take the respect and integrity you show any day of the week.
I read a study somewhere where "attitude" was one of the leading factors in beating cancer. If that's the case you're on the right track.
As always you're in my thoughts and prayers.

Anonymous said...

Dear Spencer,

Panache? Chutzpah? You qualify for the third person reference usually reserved for pro athletes and children trying to play like their heroes. What the LAF contributes matters--the skinny guys in bike costumes racing professionally are fun--but what you are doing matters a ton more. Keep celebrating and finding the positives and inspiring us--you are the Spencer.