Self Consciousness and Strength

I’m reading the Lance Armstrong book “It’s Not About The Bike, My Journey Back To Life”. A good friend gave it to me for inspiration and I hesitated about opening it up. Most of the time I don’t want to be reminded about my condition. And I was afraid that reading this book would give me one more reminder of what’s going on.

After Chapter 1 I was so inspiring that I put on one of those popular yellow Livestrong bracelets. The book is that good.

Lance (and we’re close enough buddies that I can call him Lance…I did work with him 1 day in Austin for an insurance commercial, so we’re tight)…anyway…through his book, Lance has put into words a lot of feelings and experiences that are difficult to share and difficult to describe. I’m learning a lot about my condition through his experience. Especially, the similarities of the experience of having cancer, no matter what type it is.

For example, he mentions a moment when he decided he wasn’t going to be self-conscious about his condition. It happened early on in his treatment – I believe it was after he had to go to the sperm bank and his mom and two friends went with him for support. Imagine finding out you have testicular cancer on a Thursday and by Saturday afternoon you have to muster some kind of excitement so you can hedge your bets against the radiation making you sterile? For most cancer patients, they don’t have to imagine it – it’s a reality. And one that quickly strips you of your notions about what experiences you share with other people.

Through reading his story, I understand now that there is a difference between being self-conscious and being strong. And I think one can be mistaken for the other.

From almost immediately after my diagnosis, I decided not to be self-conscious about my condition. I didn’t intend to ‘share’ my experience with the world, it just sort of happened this way. I made a decided to not try to cover up the experience, but instead share it with people who are interested. I’m happy to answer any questions. I post photos to share the experience even more. The scars, the hair, the cancer – there’s no point in pretending its not here, so why be self-conscious about it?

But this is not a sign of being strong. It may be a sign of narcissism, but all of this ‘sharing’ doesn’t make the experience any easier. Just because I can write about my chemo doesn’t make the anxiety any less real. Answering the questions about what is going on with me doesn’t those answers any less bitter tasting in my mouth when I give them. My willingness to share – to not be self-conscious – is not an example of my strength.

Strength is giving yourself the shots. Taking the pills. Getting the chemo. Dealing with the phlebitis. Following the doctor’s orders. And questioning the doctors when you’re not sure of their answers. Strength is fighting the fight and not letting the cancer have control.

As my friend said – “The disease doesn’t define the person, the person defines the disease.” This friend has shown more strength in his experience with cancer then anyone else I know. And he didn’t have a blog to brag about that strength – he just did what he had to do.

The best – and most unexpected – by-product of my blog is that I am in touch with other Hodgkin’s patients around the country.

Early on, I drew a lot of inspiration from a girl I met in the hospital while I was there. She was 4 treatments ahead of me and she was able to shed light on a lot questions and concerns that I had. Now, I’m able to do the same thing for others. Through my lack of self-consciousness, I can share the nutritional advice I’ve been given or compare treatments with other people. Through this sharing of knowledge and experience, we are able to find more strength.

Reading Lance’s book has helped me better define my own experience with cancer and examine my own strengths and weaknesses. And it might be a cheesy yellow band of plastic, but because Lance Armstrong wasn’t self-consciousness, this Livestrong bracelet is now a symbol of the strength that all cancer patients share.


11 responses to “Self Consciousness and Strength

  1. I was thinking about you today and wondering how you and Jen are doing. We think of you often and send positive thoughts your way 🙂

  2. From a friend/poster perspective, I intend to not focus on the disease and to keep things upbeat and “normal.” I think that this approach not only says that I in no way know what you are going through, but also helps you to press on without cliches and self-consciousness. But let’s be honest, you are still brave in our eyes and we don’t consider anything you have written here to be narcissistic. Roc on, my brother.

  3. Wow Steve, how great that you identify with Lance’s struggle. We all marvel at how you have this wisdom and perseverence of spirit to stay focused on the results and the finishing ribbon that you see at the completion of this race. You are the champ! We celebrate with you. Much love

  4. Lance’s website is one of the most updated, comprehensive, and helpful health sites I’ve used. It has whole forums dedicated to cancer survivors and their challenges. It’s a shame sharing the experience doesn’t always make it any easier, but damn, we’re grateful you do.

  5. Hi Steve & Jenn,

    We are doing our annual mecca to Laguna Beach 7/25- 8/8 and wondered if there was any time in there were we could swing by for a visit. We think about you often are are encouraged by how well you are doing in terms of health and in mastering the medical system.

    Cheers and hope to see you soon,
    Mel, Chris, Jocelyn, Stephanie, and Gabriella

  6. Stephen,
    I am a friend of Angela Neville’s in Dallas, Texas.
    She was kind enough to share your blog with me and just wanted to encourage you and thank you for sharing.
    “Strength is giving yourself the shots. Taking the pills. Getting the chemo. Dealing with the phlebitis. Following the doctor’s orders. And questioning the doctors when you’re not sure of their answers. Strength is fighting the fight and not letting the cancer have control.”
    Thanks for the reminder!!
    I needed that!!
    My diagnosis is Myelofibrosis and just had a stem cell transplant in May. This recovery process is really NOT fun!
    I am struggling with the insurance industry for benefits, etc. and one can easily be discouraged.
    My journal is on caring bridges

    I would echo your praise of just being able to vent.

    You have made me laugh today!! Loved the pics!!
    Let me know about your next production! I can not wait!!

    If you have time and are interested, view this presentation by my former Hematologist at Mayo Clinic/Rochester MN., Dr. Rubin Mesa.

    He is awesome and very passionate for our cause.
    There is a great need to educate about these blood disorders!! Stay REAL!!! Kathy your partner in healing!!

  7. Wacky Redhead

    Love you, Steve. Respect the heck out of you too! We send you healing vibes from far and nead!
    The Behnkens

  8. Getting cancer and receiving treatment…makes you think about a lot of things.

    It’s a different fight for everyone. Best of luck with yours.

  9. Your writing and Jen’s photos…WOW, what a couple! You guys are unstoppable!

  10. Well said Steve-0. Thanks. Keep fighting the good fight and you will prevail. Stay strong!

  11. Word up, home skillet. I always wanted one of those bracelets but for some reason never felt like I was entitled to wear one, if that makes any sense. Maybe I’ll get one now for you, Steve-A-Rino.
    Lance Armstrong is out of control. That dude will be riding the bike till he’s old and gray:

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