Benner/Sports and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Cycling and Opinion and Sports Business

BENNER: Mom and Lance Armstrong had cancer in common

July 20, 2009
I still wear one of those rubber, yellow, “Livestrong” bands on my left wrist.

A few years ago, when cyclist extraordinaire Lance Armstrong was in the midst of his phenomenal seven straight Tour de France titles, those yellow bands seemed ubiquitous. In conjunction with Nike, Armstrong’s primary sponsor, you could purchase the band for a buck or two and the proceeds went directly to Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation to fund cancer research.

But when Armstrong left competitive cycling, gradually those rubber yellow bands faded from view. I kept wearing mine, however, not only in recognition of Armstrong, with whom I have a personal connection, but to remind me of the courage of my mother, Emma, who battled back from cancer surgery not once, not twice, not three times, but four times over a 10-year period.

For the otherwise gentle person my mother was, she couldn’t have been tougher, grittier or more determined to buy herself time, which bought her more memories and experiences to share with her children, grandchildren and friends.

This past April, at age 85, Mom passed away. I thought then that I would remove that yellow band from my wrist and perhaps replace it with something bright and shiny. Except now, even a few months after our last goodbye, I look at that yellow band, see the word “Livestrong” and am reminded of Mom’s unwavering strength and determination.

There is another reason I’ve continued to wear it. Lance Armstrong.

Surely, you’ve noticed that at age 37 and after a four-year absence, he’s not only back competing in the Tour de France—which I submit is the most grueling individual athletic competition there is—but he’s back competing for the coveted yellow jersey. As of this writing, through stage 10 of the competition that ends in Paris July 26, he was in third place, just eight seconds off the lead.

How. Incredibly. Amazing.

No matter where he finishes, Armstrong’s comeback is eclipsed only by his first comeback from the ravages of the spreading testicular cancer that could have killed him if not for the surgery and treatment he received at the Indiana University Medical Center from Drs. Scott Shapiro and Larry Einhorn.

Hence, my personal connection to Armstrong, which I’ve recounted in this space before. In brief, I was the first journalist to interview Armstrong following his surgery in October 1996. Though he spoke with courage and determination, I was convinced he would not survive.

Like so many others, I underestimated the man who, within three years, would win his first Tour de France.

Now he’s back and, again, I find myself riveted by the coverage, checking his progress in the stages by day over the Web, then watching at night on the Versus Network.

This quest is also accompanied by a Nike commercial titled “Driven” that goes to the heart of his comeback. With alternate images of Armstrong and cancer patients, Armstrong intones, “The critics say I’m arrogant … a doper … washed up … a fraud … that I couldn’t let go … they can say whatever they want … I’m not back on my bike for them.”

The first time I saw the commercial, I did a fist pump from my easy chair. It was my left fist, adorned at the wrist by that yellow rubber “Livestrong” band.

He’s not back to disprove the doubters and those who persist in wrongfully painting Armstrong—who I’m guessing is the most drug-tested athlete in history—as an artificially enhanced cheater.

He’s doing it for those thousands upon thousands of cancer patients/survivors who use his inspiration—as well as the millions of dollars produced by his foundation—to fight their own fight against the disease.

I know because my mom was one of them. She was an Armstrong fan. A believer. After one of her surgeries, when she was downcast at the prospect of making yet another recovery, I bought her Armstrong’s book, “It’s Not About The Bike.” It had a positive impact on her outlook.

Funny, but I saw a lot of similarities in my aging mother and the oh-so-young-by-comparison Lance Armstrong. A refusal to give in. Courage. Resilience. Positive attitude. An inner voice that said, time and again, *I can do this!

So the yellow rubber wristband stays on, reminding me every day that Mom and Lance Armstrong had nothing—and everything—in common.•

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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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