It is October 27, and over 700 people have gathered in Austin to participate in the inaugural LiveSTRONG Summit. What do these participants have in common? Cancer. Each delegate in attendance is either a survivor, co-survivor, or cancer advocate. They have come together to unit in a single goal – to change the face of cancer suvivorship.
It’s a tall order, but LAF’s founder and leader of this new ‘Army against cancer’ – Lance Armstrong, is used to taking on huge challenges . . . in fact, he thrives on them. Through the Summit, the LAF hopes to broaden awareness and impact the unmet physical, emotional and practical needs of both people living with cancer as well as cancer survivors.
The event started with an inspiring multimedia presentation, which intertwined the stories of eight cancer survivors on stage. Their stories were common with cancer survivors – stories of doubt, fear and loss. For these survivors, their stories changed to ones of empowerment and advocacy. As prostate cancer survivor Ron Kolenic, proclaimed, “I am going to live my life on my terms,” the crowd went wild. Ending with the phrase, “We’re a nation of 10 million cancer survivors – LiveSTRONG!” brought the crowd to its feet. The emotion was intense and the stage was set – the first inaugural LiveSTRONG summit was underway!
Lance Armstrong walked out to greet the crowd saying, “I’m Lance and I’m a 10-year testicular cancer survivor” . . . as if any of us didn’t know who he was! After a brief welcome, he introduced the first keynote speaker for the day, Dr. Antonia Novella, the first female and first Hispanic U.S. Surgeon General.
Dr. Novella’s presentation was entitled, “The Power of Cancer Survivors as Advocates.” This remarkable woman emanated strength and convinction. Her words were an inspiration to all in attendance. As a Latina, I was proud to listen to the words of a woman with such strength and wisdom, and pleased that the LAF had selected her as the opening keynote. She left us with a thought affirming LAF’s motto, “Unity is Strength” proclaiming that progress is made only when we band together in the fight against cancer. As delegates attending this conference, this was a common mission.
Lance then introduced author of “Good to Great“, Jim Collins. Jim spoke about focusing on what you are passionate about. He went on to tell a story of the fox vs. the hedgehog. “The fox is sly but easily distracted, whereas the hedgehog is focused and is very good at doing one thing. You need to be a hedgehog!” This really hit home for me, as I realized that I am a fox. I tend to have many ideas – a lot of which are good ideas. But because I don’t just focus on one, none of them have the potential to be great. A powerful insight!
That was it for day one. What a way to start!
Day two started with Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. – head of the President’s Cancer Panel and noted cancer surgeon. The wisdom and elegance of this man was truly amazing. His language was poetry. For example, when speaking of prevention he said, “I want people to die young – as late in life as possible!”
Motivated, it was time for delegates to get down to work. Each table was presented with the challenge of determining unmet needs of cancer survivors. Additionally, we were to discuss obstacles we faced during our journey with cancer, and what we would have changed about our cancer experience.
One person at each table was asked to enter the ideas into the laptop at our table. Fortunately for those of us at my table, the woman who volunteered is a court reporter. She did an excellent job. Participants at our table quickly got to work discussing unmet needs, and sharing our experiences. It was a good mix – from young adults in their early 20s, to survivors in their 60s. Men, women, survivors and co-survivors. It was interesting to see, that even though we were all cancer survivors – there was quite a range of unmet needs that were distinct to specific segments of the survivorship population.
From each table, these suggestions were sent to a central computer, where they were compiled by a data analysis team. More than 3,200 inputs were recorded! The thing I was most amazed with, was the skill of the data analysis team to succinctly categorize over 3,200 comments into distinct topics. Truly impressive!
Philanthropist and prostate cancer survivor, Mike Milken was the next speaker on the agenda. To demonstrate how one person can make a difference, he told the story about Elvis Presley getting a polio immunization in the 50’s. Prior to this time, people were afraid to get a polio shot. After Elvis came forward and publicly received a polio shot, people got shots in droves. The outcome? Today, polio has virtually been eradicated. Milken challenged, “Will you be the person who does something similar in the fight against cancer?”
Milken also discussed the financial side of cancer stating, “Just from a financial perspective, it’s been estimated that defeating cancer would save $46.5 trillion dollars! That’s 3 1/2 times the U.S. economy – to say nothing of the pain and suffering that would be eliminated, too.” Facts like this make me ponder . . . why hasn’t the war on cancer been won?
Once again, we were back at work with our fellow roundtable delegates. This time, our goal was to look at the unmet needs previously identified, and brainstorm solutions. Each table was assigned two issues, based on the region in which they lived. The final results are displayed on the LAF website. Ideas were both creative and inspiring. We can make a difference!
Next, four fellow delegates spoke of their experience in identifying an unmet need in their community, and what they did to fill this need. Presentations included, Genné McDonald founder of Team Survivor North Florida, developed a post-cancer exercise program for women, Tamika Felder who created a cervical cancer support group – Tamika and Friends, Richard Nares who created a transportation service, Ride with Emilio, that serves underserved communities, and Susan Matsuko Shinagawa who became a diligent cancer advocate, particularly taking on the mission of dispelling the misconceptions that relate to asians and pacific islanders in regard to cancer. This panel was truly inspiring!
The day came to a close with a remarkable interactive experience – Drum Cafe. The team building event, was a powerful way to once again assert the LAF motto – Unity is Strength. After teaching us several different drumming rhythms and techniques, the room was alive with over 700 drums jamming with unity!
That evening, we were treated to a fajita dinner as the Austin Music Hall, complete with an excellent Mariachi Band, Ballet Folklorico Mexican dancers, and the Texas Aggie Wrangler country and western dance team. A great way to end the day!
The next morning, because of Day Light Savings time, we were all treated to an extra hour of sleep – something I for one, truly appreciated! But it was time to get back at it. The first speaker of the morning was AOL founder Steve Case. Case’s brother died from brain cancer several years ago. Case proclaimed, “After spending 20 years working to make the internet more accessible, I vowed to devote the next 10 years to make the healthcare system more accessible. It’s a broken system that equates to one-sixth of our economy where patients still feel disenfranchised,” he said. Needless to say, the crowded roared with applause and appreciation at this commitment.
Next was U.S. Senator and prostate cancer survivor John Kerry. Kerry shared his father’s prostate cancer diagnosis, the confusion surrounding his medical choices and the struggle of eventually losing his dad to the disease in a very heartfelt story. He then went on to talk about his own experience with cancer, being diagnosed with prostate cancer during his run for the presidency. Kerry ended his presentation stating, “We have been given the gift of having cancer. We are deeper and have more understanding, and we’ve been given a crash course in the range of human emotion.” I have seen Kerry speak on several occasions, and I greatly admire this man. I must say, this speech was by far the most impactful I have experienced. I thank his willingness to share in such a human and heartfelt manner.
Finally, Elizabeth Edwards took the stage to share her journey with breast cancer which was discovered during the final weeks of the 2004 presidential campaign. Edwards shared snippets from letters of support she received after she was diagnosed, and during treatment – all once again demonstrating the power of unity.
Truly inspired by these keynote presentations, we now set to work on our final objective for LiveSTRONG Summit 2006 – to create our own Personal Action Plan. Each of us defined one goal to undertake, that would help me unmet needs in our community or further advocacy for cancer survivorship. After defining the goal, we went on to list 3 activities that need to take place to ensure our goals come to fruition. For each step, we determined a timeline for completion, defined the ‘who’ involved in each step, and determined potential obstacles we would face. With this, we begin the process of setting these goals in motion.
The closing ceremony included the presentation of the 2006 LiveSTRONG Award. Lance presented this award to Jerry and Angie Kelly from Birmingham, Alabama. Jerry lost his father and both grandfathers to cancer. Several years ago, he, too was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Since this time, Jerry and Angie have committed to spreading the word about the LAF’s mission, participating in survivorship events both in the United States and around to world, and raising tens-of-thousands of dollars along the way to help in the fight against cancer.
The grand finale, was the a local Austin band Wideawake, performing Maybe Tonight, Maybe Tomorrow, a song written by lead singer Scott Leger. This song has inspired survivors nationwide, and brought awareness of cancer to the general public. United by this song, we affirmed that unity is strength.
As the Summit came to a close, delegates left empowered to begin the next phase of our journey – fulfilling our roles as advocates for cancer survivorship. We are ready. All of us have taken to heart the LAF motto: Unity is strength. Knowledge is power . . . and attitude is everything!