I want to turn back the clock here, not to those years of Mr. Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles but to this past weekend, to the Philly LIVESTRONG Challenge in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania where thousands of people turned out to support a foundation called LIVESTRONG, founded by Mr. Lance Armstrong, a seminoma survivor. This is the third year I have participated in the event, and have lead of one of the greatest teams in the event: Team Penn Medicine/The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (Abramson Cancer Center and The Cancer Center at CHOP). The team consists not only of cancer survivors and their families, but cancer researchers, physicians, nurses, and supporters. I was asked by the Abramson Cancer Center in 2009 to participate as team member, but couldn’t participate because I raced in Ironman (Louisville, KY) that year, and then they asked me to be the team captain for 2010. I couldn’t pass up on such a privileged position. We have team members from many states who participate in the Philly Challenge. This year seemed to be pretty special as the weather was perfect and the people were celebrating survivorship; cancer, this economy, our daily grind, or our own personal battles. We partake in this challenge because we know and see how LIVESTRONG benefits survivors. LIVESTRONG benefits CHOP by funding programs such as “Super Sibs” for the siblings of pediatric oncology patients and “Creative Arts Therapy” for the patients. The LIVESTRONG Center of Excellence is housed inside of the Abramson Cancer Center (UPENN) where some of the proceeds of the Philly Challenge support many programs of the center.
“Pick a Fight” was the LIVESTRONG Challenge t-shirt theme this year, as it was worn by over 300 volunteers who donated their time to support many survivors and their families. ‘Pick a Fight’ or Pick your challenge: 5k/10k run or walk was on Saturday where many of our team members ran and walked the 5k or 10k course. I was honored to run to the finish line with one of our team members, as this was her very first 5k. She is not a cancer survivor but a survivor of another battle, obesity. She tells me that she just took up the sport of running and chose the LIVESTRONG challenge to be her first race. She lost 100 pounds in the past year as she was a patient of Penn Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery Program, and look at her now living strong! Another team member has taken part in the LIVESTRONG 5k every year and has been a leading fundraiser force for the runners & walkers. This year she decided to take on the Challenge of the 10k! She met her son and mother waiting at the finish line with proud hugs and kisses (this is a common scene at the finish line at the LIVESTRONG Challenge). I was excited to see one of our teammates (survivor) this year looking good at the Challenge. Her sister expressed that she is so thrilled that her sister is looking good and walking the 5k with her on this day. Her sister was giving a short time to live when first diagnosed and now 4.5 years later; here she is participating in the Challenge to support a foundation that has always been near and dear to her heart, LIVESTRONG. Her sister then gives Penn Medicine some of the credit, as she said “it really matters where you are treated”.
You don’t want to “Pick a Fight” with our cycling team, as Mr. Armstrong would say ‘Feed the Warrior’, as I would prefer this theme to describe the cyclists on our team. Sunday the cycling team took to some of the most challenging hills of Pennsylvania, hence the Philly Challenge! The bike challenge: 10, 20, 45, 50, 75, or 100 miles of Philly’s countryside. Our team consists of pediatricians, cancer researchers leading some of the most promising trials in cancer today, three time cancer survivors, proton therapy survivors and their families, friends of survivors, obesity battlers, and people who are there to take on the “challenge” and support survivorship. It’s such an honor to have these people on our team, and I am always inspired with their stories. Here are a few from our team that incorporates what LIVESTRONG stands for:
- “I am a 3 time cancer survivor, I figure if I stay upright and fit- I can let Penn Medicine take care of the rest”
- “I have my check- up at the cancer center this week, and I am hoping once I tell my doc that I just rode 45 miles with my 14yr old son. He can tell me not to come back for another 5-10 yrs because everything looks great.”
- “Proton therapy saved my dear friend’s life, and we are so honored to be a part of this team”
- “My mom had breast cancer & my dad had prostate- they were both treated at Penn & I work at CHOP- this is the team I can represent the best”
The Abramson Cancer Center Power Stop, on mile 10 or mile 88 (on the way back), is sort of a homecoming for the team. We ride in on our bikes to see many familiar faces who work at the cancer centers. They volunteer on Sunday to support the riders along the route. They offer reiki massages, good eats, medical assistance, bike mechanics, personal cheerleaders, and a DJ spinning the tunes! Its their hard work that keep the riders going to complete the Challenge! It’s very hard to pull out of this rest stop as it’s nice to chat with everyone, and hear about their day and other team mates who came through to see them.
When working with the LIVESTRONG organization on the Philly Challenge, I work with Dylan Trakas. Dylan keeps us informed on LIVESTRONG’s mission, makes it personable, he’s very responsive, and he comes to the Abramson Cancer Center and the Cancer Center at CHOP to see how LIVESTRONG is making an impact for patients at our cancer centers. Dylan is the person behind LIVESTRONGChallenge grass roots project, and is here every year to lead the charge for the Challenge. Philly Challenge in 2010, Lance Armstrong came to Penn Medicine to take a tour and meet some of the patients. I had always been indifferent regarding Mr. Armstrong (I have to “know” someone before I become a fan) but curious and was happy to take part of the visit. I played the role of ambassador to my teammates and introduced him to some of them. When I saw him interact with the patients, and cancer survivors, he won a piece of my heart not because of his 7 titles, fancy bikes, Aspen home, or private jet. I saw him in the moment of connecting with other cancer survivors. I was fascinated with his emotional intelligence, but not so much of his public relations people- who told us not to look at him (who says that?). Not afraid to turn to stone, I watched him closely interact with the others. This is what sold me that he seemed to be a good guy. Watch this video and watch how he interacts (shaking hands) with these patients at screen shot 1:00:
Many of my teammates and I will say that Lance Armstrong has lead the change in way people look at someone with a cancer diagnosis and he has made a “huge difference in the lives of millions of cancer patients”. I am a committed supporter of LIVESTRONG and its mission. I am consistently inspired by the courage of my LIVESTRONG teammates and I am really looking forward to seeing them again at the 2013 LIVESTRONG Philly Challenge!
Linda Jacobs, PhD, RN
Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania
Living Well After Cancer Program