Love, Hope, Courage: What Cancer Cannot Kill
Growing up in northern New Jersey during the Great Depression of the early and mid-1930s, I was one of the luckiest kids imaginable because I had everything a boy could want.
I had loving parents and two beautiful sisters who tolerated their brat younger brother.
Also, I had the tools of youth —- a secondhand Columbia bicycle for which I paid $15 earned on my paper route, a Louisville Slugger bat, a battered baseball and a mitt, a well-worn basketball and football, plus ice skates for the nearby pond that became a rink in the winter and a swimming hole in the summer.
What more could a boy want in those desperate times?
But like millions of boys and girls then and now, I only dreamed of being a famous athlete.
I knew I was not going to win the Tour de France just because I rode a bike every day. I would never become a great major league hitter like my hero of those days, Lou Gehrig, and I left hockey to the Canadians I heard about who could play that game so well. Also, I’d never earn a gold medal for my swimming.
Millions of kids like me, who grew up in the 20th century, loved to compete in sports and enjoyed every minute of action without expecting athletic stardom.
We had little in common with the pros such as more recent sports stars like Lance Armstrong, who won a record seven Tour de France bicycle races; Andres Galarraga, who hit 399 home runs in 19 major league seasons; Jon Lester, who is a vital member of the Boston Red Sox current pitching staff; or Mario Lemieux, who was one of the half-dozen greatest hockey players in history and is currently the principal owner of the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
Nevertheless, thousands of boys and girls who grew up taking part in sports without coming close to achieving athletic stardom now share a very important winning experience with Lance Armstrong, Andres Galarraga, Jon Lester, Mario Lemieux and many other super athletes, including golf’s Arnold Palmer, Jim Colbert and Judy Rankin.
We are all cancer survivors.
As such, we will all join in the annual Celebration of Life today that is our National Cancer Survivors Day.
Here in the Sandhills, thanks to FirstHealth of the Carolinas, Cancer Survivors Day has become an annual and joyfully all-gratis experience of fun and games (with food) at the Pinehurst Fair Barn. Survivors should come with family and friends for a few laughs and prizes from 2 to 4 p.m.
Knows No Borders
These famous athletes who are cancer survivors are typical examples of how the many forms of this dreadful disease can hit hard at any segment of our life and culture.
Cancer knows no borders. It attacks athletes, plumbers, ditch diggers, teachers, truck drivers, politicians, doctors and nurses themselves, lawyers, rich and poor and, as I know so well, members of the Fourth Estate.
Cancer can deprive us of some family members and dear friends.
But where cancer was once a mortal wound in almost every instance, cancer now is survived by a majority of those who are diagnosed with the “Big C.”
That is why each year we have more and more folks attending our Cancer Survivors Day at the Pinehurst Fair Barn, which held more than 400 folks for the Celebration of Life last year.
A lot of credit goes to the FirstHealth of the Carolinas Moore Regional Hospital oncology staff, which last month received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons for the third year in a row. Similar oncology staffs in hospitals, big and small, are doing life-saving work from coast to coast and improving upon it every year.
The athletes named here are but an example of the wonderful cancer survivors from the world of sports. Most of them have devoted their lives to helping others with cancer ever since they learned of their own disease.
The Livestrong/Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Mario Lemieux Foundation are prominent charitable organizations devoted to cancer survivorship and prevention. The Arnold Palmer Medical Center Foundation in Orlando, Fla., manages the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. The latter has a mobile unit that provides cancer tests such as mammograms for women throughout neighborhoods of Orlando and its suburbs.
Humans Like the Rest of Us
Athletes are particularly effective in speaking about their cancer-related trials and tribulations, since we all assume star athletes are untouchable. But they are, after all, human like all of us and not immune to serious diseases.
One accomplished and still very active athlete who is in his fourth year as a cancer survivor is the swimmer Eric Shanteau, a 28-year-old Georgia native and Auburn University graduate whose specialty is the breaststroke. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in June 2008, just a week prior to that year’s United States Olympic trials.
He convinced doctors to allow him to postpone treatment until after the trials. Then, when he made the U.S. Olympic team, he convinced them again to postpone treatment until he returned from Beijing.
Shanteau did not win a medal during those 2008 Olympics, but did turn in a personal best time as he finished 10th in the 200-meter breaststroke.
Returning home after the Olympics, Shanteau underwent the delayed treatment for his cancer in the autumn of 2008.
The following year, during the World Swimming Championships in Rome, Shanteau set American records in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke and then swam the breaststroke leg of the 4 X 100 medley relay as the U.S. quartet won the gold medal while setting a world record.
Now the 6-foot 2-inch, 175-pound Shanteau is living in Marina del Rey outside Los Angeles and training at the University of Southern California before going to the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., at the end of this month. The finals in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke will be held Tuesday, June 26, and Friday, June 29, respectively.
Shanteau is expected to make it to London for the Olympic Games despite the challenges from a very strong field of American breaststrokers.
Meanwhile, Shanteau will continue working as a volunteer with the Lance Armstrong Foundation. He regularly speaks to children in grammar and high schools plus college students, blue color workers, business executives and every type of citizen about ways to live with and prevent cancer.
Even if he brings home one or more Olympic medals this time, Shanteau’s true heroics are, like those of Lance Armstrong, Mario Lemieux, Arnold Palmer and so many other athlete/survivors, a desire to help their fellow cancer survivors every way possible. Many celebrities and other volunteers from all walks of American life are extremely generous in giving of their time and money to help get cancer survivors through another day, week, month or year.
Sure, cancer can kill. No one denies that.
But cancer cannot kill as easily as it used to and, most importantly, cancer cannot kill love; cannot destroy hope; cannot kill friendships; cannot reduce courage and confidence; cannot dampen our spirit.
Come to the Cancer Survivors Day Celebration of Life, and folks with one month or 50 years as cancer survivors will prove it to you.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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