When A Cancer Hero Decides To Stop Fighting - Lance Armstrong and the USADA
I’ve just read Lance Armstrong’s statement regarding his refusal to fight any longer against the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) who claim the seven-time Tour de France winner cheated by using performance enhancing drugs throughout his career. I’m aware many people believe Armstrong’s giving up this particular and very significant battle is a sign of guilt. I don’t agree.
I think it’s a sign of strength.
He sounds to me like a man at peace with himself and the choices he’s made - an athlete secure in his reputation and accomplishments refusing to be engaged in a power play designed purely to bring him down. Rather than backing away from scrutiny, Armstrong appears to be simply standing on prior legitimate evidence.
He strikes me as a man who feels he has earned the right the pick his battles, rather than having them chosen for him.
It troubles me so many are willing to assume Armstrong is guilty of using performance enhancing drugs despite the fact there is “zero physical evidence”, simply because he's unwilling to expend any more energy refuting the USADA claims. No positive results to banned drugs have ever been recorded.
Does refusing to engage in this particular conflict denote an admission of guilt on Armstrong’s part? Why are we so quick to presume he has “surrendered”, simply because he refuses to “fight”?
Despite being a cancer survivor myself, I have never really engaged with Armstrong’s story, either professionally or personally. His aggressive “fighting” posture against cancer contrasted with my own confused state about the myth of the cancer “battle” and what is often expected from us when we have cancer. I’ve always found it difficult to understand the fighting metaphor when for me so much of what cancer was about was surrendering to what others needed to do to me to get rid of it on my behalf. Despite our differences in methodology, I hold Armstrong in the highest esteem for his ability to inspire others and help them formulate their own resistance against the disease.
Part of the reason I hate the cancer battle metaphor is because of the erroneous myth of the “cancer hero”. In light of what’s happening to Armstrong right now, I can’t help feeling this is all simply par for the “cancer hero” course.
I would also go so far as to say it’s exactly because of Armstrong's "cancer hero" status most people assumed he’d fight the USADA on this, and that perception is also why many people are so surprised he refused to accept their challenge.
We just love our cancer heroes. Everyone who is ever diagnosed with cancer is anointed as a hero whether they have agreed to it or not. I always cringe when I hear the words “brave” and “courage” used in the same sentence as “cancer", because I can’t help feeling bad for the ones who are just plain old scared and whiny. Being a hero is a huge responsibility when you’re sick, because nobody can be that brave and inspiring all of the time.
It doesn’t stop when you get well again either. Once you’ve had cancer, people largely expect you’ll be more highly evolved as a person because of it. Cancer is supposed to make you wiser and stronger, despite the fact many emerge from the experience riddled with anxieties and sometimes even as big an asshole as they were to begin with. The personal transformation part of cancer is absolutely optional.
With all this in mind, I can’t help feeling Armstrong has been set up. While I hesitate to consider Armstrong conversely as a victim, because that’s even more nauseating than being thought of as a hero, the USADA challenge seems somewhat arbitrary and vindictive. They have challenged Armstrong’s integrity as a professional sportsperson, and as a person. They have also - perhaps arrogantly - assumed if they pick this particular fight, he’ll feel like turning up to it. Cancer hero, draw forth your sword. But what I hear in Armstrong’s statement to the USADA is far from insecurity, intimidation or fear. I hear confidence. I hear strength. I hear someone carefully choosing where they will place their energy. And you know what? I almost think I hear a little petulance. I know how to fight. I have fought, and fought well. I am done fighting, not because I cannot, but because I have nothing to prove.
This conflict and vindictiveness is probably just the nature of the arena Armstrong has competed in - but I am talking about cycling. It sounds to me like the other arena he competed in taught him a thing or two. Once day, this will all be over. One day, you get to stop fighting. One day you get to choose your battles.
When a cancer hero decides to stop fighting, it doesn’t mean they have decided to die. Sometimes it means they have decided to choose the way they will live.
Lance, as a cancer survivor, I’m with you on this one.