I don’t travel for work too often, but when I do, I always bring my trusty staff issued Nike LIVESTRONG backpack. Not just because there are a billion pockets and room for practically my whole wardrobe and the kitchen sink, but because it usually results in conversations about the work we do here at the LIVESTRONG Foundation.
Now, I can bet that if you are a supporter of the Foundation, someone you know has cornered you in the last few months to ask if you are still “All In” with the Foundation. We get them as staff members daily. And sadly, some of those conversations have been very difficult. Most have been frustrating because people are not taking the time to find out what we do for cancer survivors. Our mission is simple. We provide free cancer support services to help people cope with the financial, emotional and practical challenges that accompany the disease. There were times in the last few months I felt like recording that statement and hitting “play” when I got the inevitable question from a relative, old college friend or general stranger on the street. “So how are things now at the Foundation. Are you closing the doors?” No. No we are not. So there was a moment when packing my LIVESTRONG backpack for my trip to the Foundation assembly in Chicago this February, that I considered going incognito. I dusted off my plain old black carry on suitcase and laid both out to make a what is normally a pretty easy decision.
While waiting on for my flight in the Austin airport, I sat across from a man and a woman and plopped down with my backpack. They kept looking at my bag. I could tell they wanted to ask me something. I took a deep breath and hoped that I wasn’t about to be asked a list of TMZ-esque questions about the cycling world. I looked up and smiled. The woman said “Do you work at the Foundation?” “Yes, ma’am I do.” The next 20 minutes made these last three months of turmoil melt away. You see, I had just met the LaBaws – Michael and Cheryl – and the LaBaws are a great example of people that truly “get it” when it comes to our work at the Foundation.
Michael is a seven-year survivor of a rare eye cancer which was followed by two subsequent diagnoses of cancer in each of his kidneys. He knows the “shock and awe” of a diagnosis all too well. Michael happened to have met our President & CEO, Doug Ulman, at the Inc. 500 conference last Fall. After the event he introduced himself to Doug and our staff attending the event. Michael recently wrote about this chance meeting and resulting conversation. He said, “As it gained participants and momentum, I was seriously impacted by that conversation. The genuine concern, warmth and familiarity with the travails of fighting cancer that was shown by the LIVESTRONG Foundation staff moved me to take note and be a part of what they were doing.” During that conversation Michael was invited to visit our headquarters next time he came to town.
Well he did. He and his wife Cheryl were given a tour of the our facility and they chatted with even more staff members – Renee, a breast cancer survivor, and Mindy, a stage 4 bone cancer survivor, and again with Doug, who is also a three-time cancer survivor. He shared his experiences of navigating the fight against cancer. “We were looking forward to the tour and to see how the recent events with Lance Armstrong had impacted to organization,” said LaBaw. “While we could see the impact, we clearly saw that the LIVESTRONG Foundation is not about Lance, but is about assisting those who are in need of the Foundation’s services and that we could help by getting the word out.” The LaBaw’s made the decision that very evening to find ways to get involved and is challenging other businesses to do the same.
The LaBaws get it. They have lived it. They know the need and they recognized that our Foundation can help people. Most importantly, they took the time to understand how our organization works to help people fighting just as Michael did seven years ago. I am truly glad that I met the LaBaws. I’m glad that Cheryl’s parting words at our gate were, “You keep your head high. You are changing lives.” And I’m really glad I decided against the black swivel carry on and opted for my LIVESTRONG backpack.
Read more about Michael, his company, Sound Telecom and their decision to support the LIVESTRONG Foundation including his challenge of other businesses to get “off the fence” and get involved in the fight against cancer.