'Livestrong' Bracelets and Living with Cancer

Regardless of the drug-use allegations against Lance Armstrong, those yellow plastic "Livestrong" bracelets have come to represent more than the story of the champion cyclist's personal battle against cancer.

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It sometimes seems as if half the youngsters you see on any given day, prowling malls, running in parks or riding busses are wearing yellow Live Strong bracelets on their wrists. Those bracelets are the symbols of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which has done much over the past decade to support people with cancer and their families, to keep them focused on living not dying.

More than 10 million Americans, according to the foundation, currently live with cancer. Another million will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Given the advances in current treatments, 60 percent of those diagnosed today can expect to still be alive five years from now. Living with cancer, regarding it a as a fact of life, not a sentence of death, is a challenge which millions of people around the world carry out with determination and grace. I've always found those little yellow bracelets cheerful and worth cheering. In a world in which youngsters often like to wear something that recalls some famous athlete, outlaw or celebrity, I like to think those bracelets remind them that the real rewards and victories in life are earned with courage and character.

Those bracelets signify the story of Lance Armstrong's long hard ride from terminal illness to triumph. They've done much to change the image of people with cancer. We use to say that people struggled with cancer. Now we say they battle it. We use to say that some people survive cancer, now we can say they can beat the disease. Elsewhere in our program this morning, we're carrying a story by NPR's Tom Goldman that raises questions about Mr. Armstrong's testimony that he has never used performance enhancing drugs, including steroids and what's called blood doping. Most recently publicized allegations stem from 1996 when he was hospitalized for cancer treatment. He won his first Tour de France in 1999 and his seventh and final one last year.

We won't review the story here except to note that Mr. Armstrong, his attorney and doctors all deny the charges. I hope that as this story plays out over the next few weeks and maybe years that the allegations, whether proved or disproved, don't tarnish those yellow plastic bracelets. What they've come to represent is larger than Lance Armstrong. As he himself has always said, his is not the only inspiring story. These days almost each and every one of those bracelets can be seen as a symbol of one of the millions of Americans who live with cancer, and drive cabs, raise children, teach school, work in factories, fields, skyscrapers or kitchens, and maybe ride bicycles for fun. They live strong, cherish their lives and help make all our lives more precious.

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