The yellow Livestrong bracelets and what they mean depend how we as individuals choose to see the bigger picture behind them. It’s a card hand we each hold that is made up of personal history, personal values, degree of faith, forgiveness capacity, one’s political views, perspective (large or small) and a wild card (feelings – could be grief, relief, cynicism, or anger).
In my humble opinion, people need to be very careful when expressing their views about organizations like the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation which has been considered one of the most trusted non-profit organizations in America yet has also been criticized for its use of donor funds, their affiliations and their marketing tactics. Or the American Cancer Society who is dedicated to funding research and development of medicine and treatments to eliminate cancer, AND has been accused of duplicity and criticized for some of their recommendations and (again) use of funds. Or the Livestrong Foundation who’s focus is the issues faced by cancer survivors and improving the quality of life for those people by helping them navigate health care, community and personal challenges, AND now finds itself guilty by association to a man who, cancer-wise, certainly earned the right to found this organization but has subsequently made poor professional decisions that may hurt the reputation of best thing he ever did.
Again, we are faced with trying to figure out if humans are all good or all bad? Are the organizations we create all good or all bad? Is it possible that there are degrees of both in all of us? Is it possible that something we create in the spirit of doing right – will make poor decisions occasionally? Is it possible for a good organization to have ‘a not so good’ person working inside its walls? Is it possible for something to represent good in one set of eyes and bad in another? Need I go on? Of course it’s possible. Just like it’s possible to be diagnosed with cancer, which is one of the worst things that can happen to a person, and for that person to emerge on the other side a better individual (if they are fortunate to survive).
I’d be curious to know what percentage of the critics out there have had a face to face encounter with cancer, either themselves or with a loved one? How about the husband whose wife beat breast cancer with the help of financial aid from Kromen? How critically does he speak of their affiliates? Or the young adult cancer survivor who receives legal guidance from Livestrong because they are being discriminated against by their insurance company for a pre-existing condition. I wonder if they’re wondering where the missing samples went? Does having had a personal encounter with cancer make someone more or less a critic? Does it matter?
Perhaps what matters is not whether you’ve been intimate with the disease – rather to remember to practice compassion when expressing criticism about all these issues.
Why? Well this next admission makes me vulnerable, but what the hell? Here goes: There is a crucible moment when someone you love more than your own life is fighting cancer when – short of trading another life – you would do ANYTHING to make them better.
You would wear ANYTHING to show your solidarity. You would accept aid from ANY organization that fundamentally does good and offers to help you and your loved one cope with the completely overwhelming and never-ending medical maze, insurance nightmare, short-term scenarios, long term realities, alternative ideas, jargon, family dynamics, community curiosity and pity, unsolicited opinions of complete strangers and societal prejudice.
That moment may last a moment, or it may last a year or a even lifetime – depending again – on your card hand and how much intelligent support you have around you. But (and this is just my opinion) anyone who tells you that they executed carefully planned out, backed by all the politics and research, completely ethical and only the soundest and unemotional of choices every single step of the way on a life threatening cancer diagnosis, with nary a single moment of being willing to do whatever necessary to make it all go away – isn’t being honest.
It’s called foxhole prayer. Even if only for one moment, I believe we do it. We do it when the bombs going off around us are big enough and the evidence of people dying from those bombs is irrefutable. We do it because we are afraid, but we also do it because we need hope.
So please, just be careful with black and white, all good or all bad thinking. Be careful making statements that sound like absolutes. Consider, for good measure and an ounce of compassion, using phrases like “in my opinion” and “some people may feel” or “these are my beliefs.” We can agree to disagree, but please be careful about saying things that may make a person who wears that frigging yellow wristband for a damned good reason feel as though they are wearing something that symbolizes betrayal. The yellow wristband that I wore on and off for nearly three years symbolized the most heroic person I will ever know (and it wasn’t Lance Armstrong). I hope I never have to put that yellow band on again, but I will not hesitate to if I want or need a reminder and symbol to be less afraid and have more hope in the face of cancer.