Monday, August 22, 2005

What all patients can learn from Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong is a living legend today - the man who beat cancer and then won the Tour de France- a record seven consecutive times ! I just re-read his book, It's Not About the Bike, and I found it inspiring. I believe the following extracts would be useful to any patient, no matter what illness they are battling - whether it's cancer or infertility.

The more I thought about it the more cancer began to seem like a race to me. They shared grueling physical aspects as well as a dependence on time and progress reports every interval , with checkpoints and a slavish reliance on numbers and blood tests . The only difference was that I had to focus better and hard up than I ever did on the bike .

I became a student of cancer . I went to the biggest book store and bought everything there on the subject . I came home with ten different volumes: diet books, books on coping emotionally ,meditation guides. I was willing to consider any option no matter how goofy.

From that moment on my treatment became a medical collaboration. Previously I thought of medicine as something practiced by individual doctors on individual patients. The doctor was all-knowing and all- powerful, the patient was helpless. But it was beginning to dawn on me that there was nothing wrong with seeking a cure from a combination of people and sources and that the patient was as important as a doctor. No one doctor could take sole responsibility for the state of my health, and most important I began to share the responsibility with them.

I wanted the foundation to manifest all of the issues I had dealt with in the past few months: coping with fear, the importance of alternate opinions, thorough knowledge of the disease , the patient’s role in cure , and above all , the idea that cancer did not have to be a death sentence . It could be a route to a second life , an inner life , a better life .

What if I had lost ? What if I relapsed and the cancer came back ? I still believe I would have gained something in the struggle , because in what time I had left , I would have been a more complete , compassionate and intelligent man , and therefore more alive . The one thing the illness convinced me beyond all doubt is that we’re much better than we know . We have unrealized capacities that sometimes only emerge in a crisis. So if there is a purpose to the suffering that is cancer , I think it must be this : it’s meant to improve us.

What I really admire about him is he put all his suffering and experience to the best use possible – he tried to help others suffering from cancer by setting up the Lance Armstrong Foundation. And by helping others, he helped himself most of all !


  1. I too faced the same horrors when I suffered from a degenerative nervous system disease after years of abuse under modern health care. I went ahead and studied alternative medicine and decided that I had to strengthen my immune system to fight the disease. Today I'm up and about but wish I had taken things into my own hand much earlier.


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