This piece appeared in Birmingham Magazine's Dec. 2008 edition.
Driving home from work some time ago, something caught my eye about the older couple in the car that drove past me. I glanced over and saw that the woman in the passenger seat didn't seem well. A moment later, stopping alongside them at the red light I caught a glimpse of her again. She had that all too familiar look. She's wearing a dew rag to cover a bald head, no eyebrows, her skin is pale...My cancer detector lit up; I was 99.9% sure she was in the middle of chemotherapy. Then as the light turned green and the car eased ahead, I saw the rear license plate frame that said, "We support the American Cancer Society". That made me 100% sure. I always feel compelled to say things to others I meet that are walking the same path I traveled not so long ago. I want to say something encouraging, tell them it will be alright, show them how well I'm doing, hug them, show them my latest marathon picture, something- anything, but what can you do out on Highway 280 in heavy traffic? It's not the most conducive place to start a conversation.
But then, I got an idea. I wear one of those yellow, LiveSTRONG bracelets. It's a simple, cheap, fundraiser that caught on big time, from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. It's bright yellow, because that's the color of the race jersey worn by the winner of the Tour De France. Just to complete one is considered a remarkable cycling accomplishment. Lance Armstrong won the Tour De France 7 times in a row; a staggering feat of endurance for anyone. What makes it even more astounding is that he managed to accomplish all of this after being diagnosed with testicular cancer that was so far advanced it had already spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain. At the time of his diagnosis his doctors had estimated his chances of merely surviving, to be somewhere in the 10% range. Talk about odds? This set of unlikely ingredients caused him to become some kind of “hope machine” for all cancer survivors. Wearing that bit of Tour de France yellow is a way to jump on his wheel, so to speak, which, in cycling terms, means drafting behind so closely that you are pulled right along with him.
Sooo, I drove like a maniac to catch the couple at the next light…I maneuvered alongside their car, as close as possible, and gestured to the woman to roll down her window. She looked a bit shocked and seemed reluctant at first, but I think my big smile helped me to appear harmless...I rolled my window down, pulled the yellow band off of my arm and handed it across to her. All I said was, “Here, you NEED this”! As she looked down and saw what it was, a huge smile lit up her face. I pointed to my head, now full of thick wavy hair, and said, “See, it grows back great!” The light turned green and as we both started moving again, I heard her yell "God bless you"! At the next light the couple was a few cars behind me, but in the rear view mirror I saw that she was waving her arm with the bracelet like a madwoman. I waved back.
We parted ways a few more lights down the road, and I wished I'd gotten her name or thought to have given her my card. It would have been nice to keep in touch with her, hear about her progress. There were so many things I'd never know about her. How sick was she? Was she just starting or was she nearly done with her treatments? All I did know, was that on that day, I was able to give her something special. A little piece of hope.
Two months later. Same road. Same car pulls alongside me. A woman rolls down her window and waves. Talk about odds?