Friday, October 26, 2012

Lance Armstrong, LIVESTRONG, and Werner Erhard

 by Susan

With recent events in the cycling world, we are being forced to re-evaluate Lance Armstrong as an athlete and as a person.  Do we need to also re-evaluate Lance as an ass-kicking cancer survivor and founder and spokesperson for LIVESTRONG? 

I’ve worked for LIVESTRONG as a volunteer and LIVESTRONG grassroots leader for the past two years.  I’ve been a founding member and board member of the Colorado Cycling Team Benefiting LIVESTRONG.   Last April, I retired from my job in the software business and announced to my colleagues that I was going to devote my time and energy to LIVESTRONG.    Why did I do this?  Well, both my husband, George, and I are cancer survivors.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 and he with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2010.  Although we both got “cured” by our teams of doctors, our own strong wills, and sheer luck, the messages we’ve received from LIVESTRONG have made a huge difference in our mental outlooks. 

If you’ve never had cancer, it’s hard to understand what it feels like to the person who hears those three dreaded words, “you have cancer”.   With those words, you can feel the bottom dropping out of your world, and everything you think you knew comes crashing down.  There’s tremendous fear, shock, and yes, anger. Why did this happen to me?  Anger:  there is no God because God wouldn’t have let me get cancer; my body sucks for getting cancer. Even betrayal:  it’s all a mistake – those results aren’t mine they’re someone else’s, please, let it be anyone else but me.    Then you think maybe you did something to cause the cancer – I drank too much alcohol, I had the wrong diet, I didn’t exercise enough, I let myself be exposed to toxic environments, I had fear or guilt within my soul that erupted into cancer in my body

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 I hid it from the people I worked with.  I left for tests and doctor appointments without telling anyone why; when I took off for a month to have bi-lateral mastectomies I just told people that I needed a month off for undisclosed surgery.   I was ashamed of my cancer diagnosis, ashamed of having my breasts removed, and I thought that people at work would see me as sickly and weak and I’d never get a promotion or an important project again.    I came back to work and acted like nothing had happened, even though my whole outlook on life and my self-image had changed.    I went from thinking of myself as an active and attractive young woman to being a damaged, scarred, middle aged woman who thought she would never be attractive again. Most of all, I felt like a loser, which in our culture is the greatest sin of all.

When my husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2010 attitudes toward cancer had changed dramatically.  He told everyone who would listen what was wrong with him, he kept a very public blog about all the details of his diagnosis and treatment, he kept his position at his company and even got promoted during the year that he was going through some very heavy duty chemo treatments. 

What happened between 2003 and 2010? I think that a large part of these changes was due to Lance Armstrong and LIVESTRONG. 

When I was going through my cancer diagnosis I read Lance Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike, and reading about Lance’s cancer journey helped to give me the courage to face my own possible mortality.  I thought, if Lance could do it, then I can do it.  I used his story to show how I could get back up and be active after my surgery, working through the chest pain of the initial surgery and all the reconstructive surgeries, working through the brain fog I felt from multiple general anesthetics, working through going to the gym and wearing my t-shirt into the shower because I didn’t want anyone to see my chest.    I saw pictures of Lance looking like hell after his multiple surgeries and chemo treatments, then going on to great cycling achievements.  This was at a time when we were used to seeing cancer patients as skinny, bald people with big hollows under their eyes who were just one step away from the grave.  To see a healthy, fit Lance wearing the yellow jersey in triumph gave a whole new meaning to survival.  We could not only survive, we could thrive and go on to great achievements. 

People everywhere started wearing the yellow LIVESTRONG wristbands as a show of support for cancer survivors – most of them either because they or someone close to them had cancer.   People started talking about their cancer survivorship.  LIVESTRONG held sports events to raise money for cancer and they gave out roses to cancer survivors.  We were cool - we were on Team Lance.    Was this because Lance was a seven time Tour de France winner?  Well, that was undeniably part of it.  He went from having cancer to being one of the most successful athletes of our time.   He hung out with celebrities, he had access to the highest levels in government.  He was a hero. 

Let me say here that although Lance has been accused of being an arrogant asshole with some kind of megalomanic complex by some sports writers and fellow cyclists, he was never that way within the cancer community.  He was unfailingly generous and kind with those who worked and volunteered for LIVESTRONG.    He has opened up his home to LIVESTRONG employees and volunteers, he gave a friend who needed a ride to a Team LIVESTRONG event a lift on his private jet, he has smiled and shaken hands and given support to countless cancer survivors who looked up to him.   He has given large amounts of his own money to help LIVESTRONG get going and has never taken any kind of salary from the organization. 

Within LIVESTRONG and among cancer survivors, Lance has been a hero.   There may have been some unhealthy “cult of Lance” behavior, too – where people tried to get into his inner circle or just be near him, or gave him undue worship.  

Recently we have found out that Lance was not a hero in the cycling community.  There is now enough evidence against him that it seems that in spite of his assertions of innocence, he was involved with doping over a long period of time.  While he was not the only one, he was certainly influential due to his success and fame.   If he had refused to dope, he probably would have ended up in the middle of the peloton and would never have won the Tour de France.  Someone else who doped would have and would now be stripped of their titles.   Would Lance’s refusal to dope have changed the environment of the tour and caused others to re-think their own doping, or would it have just relegated him to obscurity where he had no influence?  I guess we’ll never know. 

There is a huge part of me that is heartbroken, sad, and disappointed about all of this.  I no longer have a hero in Lance.  Is that good or bad?  I’m old enough to know that heroes don’t exist and aren’t really going to save us from anything – it’s up to us to be our own heroes and to save ourselves.  Still, it hurts.  I’m angry too – how did it go on for so long, and why now, after all these years, after Lance has retired from cycling and has been spending most of his time working for LIVESTRONG, have these allegations come home to roost?  I’m angry with Lance for lying to all of us and for putting me into this position.  I don’t want to spend my time and energy being an apologist for Lance, and I don’t think that’s my job.   Certainly he never asked for this – he’s a big boy and he needs to get himself out of the mess he got himself into and figure out what to do with the rest of his life.  

I do want to spend my time helping others with cancer. I want to give others the message that there is life after a cancer diagnosis, and that they can be healthy, active, and happy during and after cancer treatments.    I want to tell other women with breast cancer that they can be athletes; they can be sexual and attractive. In LIVESTRONG I have found a caring community of people who are passionate about helping cancer survivors.  There is so much heart and hard work within the organization that I am in awe.  I have found friendship and camaraderie among the people I’ve met through LIVESTRONG.  I remember at one of our leadership events I was standing around with four other survivors and we were having a contest to see who had the most gross and disgusting cancer treatments.  We were each telling our worst nightmare treatment stories, then laughing about them, and saying, “Oh yeah?  Well you should hear what happened to me …..”    It was so healing, so cathartic, and  I realized that there was probably not another place in the world I could have had that discussion with such total empathy and understanding. 

So, the crazy thing is that today I started thinking about Werner Erhard.   Werner Erhard is a familiar name to all of us baby-boomers, but for those who’ve never heard of him, he was a really popular figure in the so-called “self-help” movement of the 1970s and 1980s in this country.  He was a self-taught former salesman who created the transformational program known as “est”, or Erhard Seminars Training.   Thousands of people went through the est training.   The training was a blend of Dale Carnegie positive thinking, Silva mind control, and Zen Buddhist teachings.   Kind of like the precursor to ‘The Secret”.    I went through the est training in 1980, and I was really wrapped up in it for a while.  I felt that it had a lot to offer and had made a tremendous difference in my outlook on life.   The one part I was always uncomfortable with was that Werner Erhard was such a charismatic leader that he was almost regarded as a demi-god by people within the est organization.    They attributed almost supernatural powers to him (for example, I heard one story that Werner had caused himself to get a tan overnight by just thinking about it).    In 1991 Werner retired from the est organization amid allegations of tax fraud and sexual misconduct and disappeared to Russia for a while.   After he left, the est training found a second life as The Forum and then Landmark training, but it never again had the almost religious fervor and high profile media attention that it had while Werner was leading the organization.  The problem is that when your organization is defined by a charismatic leader and that leader falls, you have nothing to base it on any more and it quickly loses its power.   I did a little research on Werner recently, and found that he successfully refuted the allegations of tax fraud and sexual harassment, and now continues to do some much lower profile leadership training and management consulting in the United States.  However, he has never gone back to his former level of fame.

What does Werner Erhard have to do with Lance Armstrong?  Both have been charismatic leaders who have rocketed their organizations to fame.   Both started out in lowly circumstances and ended up hanging out with celebrities.  Both took big falls.  And both of them were heroes of mine. 

I remember when Werner Erhard got divorced from his second wife and I was having my own relationship problems.  I was really mad at him.  I thought, “If he can’t even stay married then why should I listen to any of his advice on relationships?”  I had been listening to his tape on Relationships in the cassette deck of my little orange hatchback car.  I realized then that I was on my own – there was no magic knowledge or 60-hour program that was going to get me through the thorny patches of life.  There was nothing that was going to keep me from dealing with those tough circumstances that define adulthood – rocky marriages, loss of people you love, death and disease. 

One thing I do know is that I have made many mistakes in my life and I still have a lot to learn.  I’ll probably go on making mistakes and acting stupid until the day I die.  There are things that I’ve done that I’m not proud of, things that, were they held up to public scrutiny would definitely disqualify me from being anyone’s hero.    I think most of us are in that boat; still, we search for people who are better than we are, who have found “the secret”, who somehow have transcended the ordinary lives of “quiet desperation” that Thoreau wrote about.    We put people on pedestals and then, when they fall off, we feel angry and betrayed. 

When I was helping my husband George through his grueling stem cell transplant to fight Hodgkin’s, people asked how we ever got through it.  The answer is, we got up every day and put one foot in front of the other and just thought about getting through that day.   And there was really no way around this.  As I told George, “the only way out is through”.    We learned to embrace what our friend Josh Schwiesow, another Hodgkin’s survivor, calls the principle of “One Fun Thing,” which means that you try to find one fun thing to do every day, even if it’s something as simple as enjoying a nice cup of tea with a friend or taking a walk around the block. 

There’s actually some good news about Lance’s fall from grace.  The people at LIVESTRONG now get to take ownership of the tremendous work that they’ve been doing.   It’s really not about Lance – it’s about George Florentine, and Rich Easton, and Steve Burns, and  Tara Williams and Mike Dunkle and Meg Halford and all the other local heroes who are doing what they can in the fight against cancer.  

In doing research on what happened to Werner Erhard, I found some clips of him talking on You Tube.  Actually, he said a lot of great stuff.  One thing he said was “What you resist persists”, and he told us that if you move from resisting something to first just letting it be and then finally taking responsibility for it, it puts you in a position of power so that things aren’t just “happening” to you.  My advice to Lance right now would be just to come clean and admit to everything he did and take responsibility for it.  That would be healing for all of us. 

Now, we in LIVESTRONG get to take responsibility to where the organization goes from here.  We, not Lance,  are LIVESTRONG.  We get to take ownership of this huge task and responsibility to help the 28 million cancer survivors in the world.  Will LIVESTRONG survive without Lance?  It’s up to us. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

maximum intensity workouts and why I love Strava

Howdy, all! I hope you are all doing well. I am feeling pretty good these days - riding my bike, living life, enjoying friends and family. Here's a little article I wrote for our bike team newsletter I thought you might also enjoy reading. Ride on!

Maximum Intensity Workouts and Why I Love Strava

After you've gone through a cancer journey, you lose many things and part of the recovery process is finding them again. Things that you might have lost along the way:
  • Faith in the universe
  • Faith that you will live a long and happy life
  • Faith in your body
Today I want to talk about the last item - faith in your body. Almost no one goes through a cancer journey without a few permanent "gifts". Some of these are mental, some are physical and some intertwine the two. If you've had breast cancer, maybe you've had surgery or radiation that has left scars, changed musculature, caused skin changes. In my case (lymphoma), you may have a changed blood chemistry that reduces your aerobic capacity or leaves you more vulnerable to infections or more susceptible to bleeding. If you've had lung cancer, you've probably ended up with reduced pulmonary capacity. Fill in your story here!

So, OK. You're through with your treatment, your body isn't the same, but it looks like you're no longer on the verge of dying anytime soon. Now what? I think that in our culture there's a general sense that you have to be careful, you have to take it easy. By God, you just had cancer and lots of treatments! You should just be enjoying life. Go for long walks, watch beautiful sunsets, hug a tree. But hey, guess what? That sounds pretty damn boring to me. But whoa! Aren't you afraid that your new, warped, bent, slightly broken body will collapse if you work out too hard? Remember when you thought you would be a healthy, happy, vibrant 100 year old? And remember when you weren't strong enough to mow the lawn, to climb a set of stairs, to sing a song, to even talk because your lung function was so bad. And now you want to - what? Climb 4,000 feet on your bike, up to 12,200 ft? At night? And come screaming down a road with no guardrails, no street lights, where a wrong turn causes - ahem - bad things to happen? After all the work you've done to get through chemo, you should just sit down and take it easy. 

For me, the answer is: YES! I do want to push my body as hard as it can go. NO! I do not want to sit around and watch sunsets and be afraid that the slightest physical exertion will cause some strange, unpredictable catastrophic failure in my now slightly beat up body. So earlier this summer, I did climb up Fall River Road on my mountain bike. At night. Under the full moon. To the top of Trail Ridge Rd - 12,200 ft. And then a screaming descent. 30 miles, 4,200 ft of climbing. And I was dead last every foot of the way. My companions were very supportive of me - making sure I didn't have a break down, riding up, riding back, waiting for me. And it was HARD. 3+ hours with my heart rate > 150 bpm, which for my age is pretty much rockin'. 

As I collapsed in the car after the ride, I wondered. How many adults, cancer survivors or not, actually do something like this. Challenge themselves to a maximum intensity workout? Push yourself so hard you break. Then you recover, push hard again. Break again. Your fingers are numb, your toes are tingling, you're getting woozy. Because you're at 11,000 ft, you're climbing a 10% grade and your hematocrit is 38? Not many, I wager. And what a loss for them. When you push yourself beyond what you think you can do, you give yourself a wonderful gift. And this gift is especially precious when it comes after your body has been so ravaged by a disease and the poisons and medieval torture we inflict as part of cancer treatments. 

So my advice for every cancer survivor I meet will be this. Do a maximum intensity workout. Don't worry about pushing too hard. You're much, much stronger than you think you are. And to get stronger still, guess what? You have to push hard. It's just that simple. No hard work, no improvement. A pretty good life lesson, by the way. So I'm going to watch the pretty sunsets. But only after I've hammered myself on a bike, a run, a swim - something.

And finally, why do I love Strava? Because it's got the suffer score. This is based on your heart rate during a workout as a function of your max heart rate. So when everyone is ahead of you and you think to yourself "Yeah, I'm only in the 11th percentile of all Strava users that have climbed this segment. But I sure as hell am in the 99th percentile when it comes to working hard!!" Well, now Strava gives you quantitative support for your argument. So get a Strava account, punish yourself on some rides and then compare your suffer score against all those slacker, healthy guys and gals that were just coasting up the road ahead of you!

Here's my Strava segment for the Fall River Ride in July of 2012. Beat my suffer score and send me your Strava workout! cya on the road!!!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

eRock 2012 is in the books

Hey, guys. Here's the final blog post about eRock. Saturday afternoon got a bit crazy as some big thunderstorm cells wandered through the area around Palmer Divide. The race got called because of weather at about 3:30 pm - multiple lightning strikes in the area and some heavy wind. We were all happy they stopped racing when the lightning started but we were a bit disappointed that they decided to abandon and not wait for the weather to clear up. Here's a quick summary of some thoughts about the race:

  • On my last lap I was fortunate enough to see a guy in front of me that was just slightly slower than me. For 3 1/2 miles I slowly closed the gap between him and me and finally caught him on the level jeep road. I could see him look behind to watch me close on him and he tried to stay away but his back was bothering him and he had trouble climbing. At one point I said to myself "hey, if you don't catch him, it's ok. Think about all the stuff you've been through the last two years. You should just be happy to be out here and if you can't fight through the pain to push up the hill, it's ok." And then it hit me. I am NOT SICK anymore. So I shouldn't use that as an excuse anymore. So yeah, I've been through a lot. And yeah, I'm not sure what my body is capable of now or in the future. But I shouldn't hide behind that. If I want to go faster and get stronger, than I should - here's the big surprise! - go faster and get stronger. Wow. Pretty simple stuff. Stop making excuses and turn your damned legs on the bike! So I caught him, asked him how he was doing and he said "I'm tired". Well, 20 hours into a race, with probably little sleep the night before is a pretty good time to be tired. So I said "Yup, it's that time of day" and I put the (little, tiny) hammer down and pushed to the finish line. I put about 2 minutes on him in the last 2 miles. Ah, the joys of competition! It may seem small and petty and unimportant to care about such things. But when you're trying to rebuild  your body, you have to take joy in the little victories and this was certainly a victory.
  • It's great doing something like this with engineers and project managers. Not only is everyone super prepared, but everyone is anxious to out-prepare everyone else. (Did I mention that this group is a bit competitive?) So if you ask for sunblock, everyone dives into their bags to see who has the best sunblock that is most easily accessible. And after a meal, people instantly do the dishes without being asked. 
  • It's been a month since my last chemo, and this weekend it was great to have my legs hurt and not feel so totally gassed from lack of oxygen transport. Yeah, it hurts when you ask your legs to do more than they want to, especially three times over an 18 hour period. But to be able to get enough oxygen to your legs to have them work hard enough to generate metabolic waste products is really good news for me. I hope that my o2 transport continues to improve so I can work my muscles more so they in turn will get stronger. That's the strange perspective you get when you've been really ill. Someone else will complain about their painful legs. I'm really happy to have my legs hurt because of what it means about my overall health.
And a few pictures from Saturday's racing (thx Tony for filling in for Glenn as team photographer!)

Me charging down the final straight after passing my competition (note that you can't see anyone behind me. In rowing terms, this is known as "horizoning" someone, as in they are so far behind you that they're beneath the horizon:

Gary charging off into the storm (note the big rain clouds behind him):

Waiting for Gary to finish so we can complete the tear down of our campsite. In classic Colorado fashion, we've all got rain gear on our tops and shorts on. From left to right, me, Ed and Carlin.

If you want to look at race results, we're the BikesOrBeers team in the 8 person coed division.

And to give you a sense for how slow I am compared to folks that are somewhat serious about riding their bikes, check out the Strava segment for the course (I am currently 18/20th. Ed (6), Tony (7) and Gary (10) are also on our team). For me, definitely room to get better!


Ari Newman
Ari NewmanJun 01, 201217.5mi/h166bpm240W Powermeter-27:25
2Chris GravesJun 03, 201116.3mi/h171bpm--29:31
3David B.Jun 01, 201216.0mi/h-262W-30:01
4Dave ChorenJun 01, 201215.8mi/h-154W-30:25
5matthew clineJun 01, 201215.6mi/h-242W-30:46
6Ed BaldufJun 01, 201215.3mi/h170bpm187W-31:21
7Tony ApuzzoJun 03, 201115.3mi/h145bpm249W-31:29
8Craig KellerJun 01, 201215.2mi/h-115W-31:35
9Kent SmithJun 03, 201114.7mi/h148bpm139W-32:41
10Gary BonnerJun 02, 201214.0mi/h-136W-34:18
11Paul GoldbergJun 01, 201213.7mi/h155bpm218W-35:03
12Kim NordquistJun 03, 201113.6mi/h---35:21
13mark truelsenJun 02, 201213.4mi/h-132W-35:55
14Mike BeanJun 01, 201213.1mi/h-149W-36:38
15Christopher FosterJun 03, 201112.9mi/h160bpm--37:10
16Jeff WheelockMay 09, 201212.8mi/h---37:31
17Jon ElliottApr 28, 201211.9mi/h---40:15
18George FlorentineJun 02, 201211.9mi/h153bpm107W-40:28
19Rob GaffneyJun 03, 201211.6mi/h135bpm--41:23
20Justin GritzmacherSep 04, 20118.3mi/h---57:44