Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review - It's not about the bike - my journey back to life by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins

Latest book that I've completed, It's not about the bike - my journey back to life by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins, was a fabulous read. Certainly one of the most interesting and entertaining non-fiction works at least. I picked it up for $4 at the Save The Children Fund Giant Book Fair.

For those of you who have spent much time living under a rock, Lance Armstrong, US cyclist, upcoming multiple Tour de France champion, suffered from cancer. Testicular cancer. What you may not know is that it also spread to his lungs in the form of about a dozen tumours and reached his brain forming a couple of lesions. Following his treatment he won the Tour de France. The book details his diagnosis, rapid treatment, his doubts, his determination and his struggle to overcome the disease. I have a far better understanding of what people who contract cancer go through with chemotherapy treatment. And the truth is confronting and a bit disturbing. Armstrong didn't hold back when explaining anything. But he had the best doctors, a wonderful support team which included his mum, and his wealth behind him to devote to treatment and recovery. Only at the end of the book do we really find out what the doctor thought his chances of survival were.

Other features of the book include how he grew up, without his father, with a cheating and beating step-father who supplied his surname, and how he got into cycling. Armstrong began as a poor swimmer who turned into triathlete that was too good for anyone in his age group. He was a hot-head who was force to struggle as his mum spent much of her time as a single parent. This provided Lance with more freedom than was usual at his age and he was used to getting his own way.

Due to his chemotherapy prior to getting married he and his wife used IVF treatment. And the book doesn't hold back in describing the fear, anguish and hurt that they went through. I have a lot more respect for couples undergoing this as it isn't nearly as straightforward or pain-free as many would imagine.

I like to obtain a few quotations from the book and now is the time to share them.

- "Make an obstacle an opportunity, make a negative a positive." - Lance's mum
- Give an inch, make a friend.
- "Who's going to work hard for someone who doesn't win?" - Jim Ochowicz
- You can teach someone how to control their strength, but you can't teach them to be strong.
- "You ever hear about how when you stab somebody, it's really personal? Well, a bike race is that kind of personal. Don't kid yourself. It's a knife fight." - Chris Carmichael.
- Cyclists are computer slaves; we hover over precise calculations of cadence, efficiency, force, and wattage.
- The problem was, I attacked too early, as usual. I went with 25 miles still to go, and on a downhill portion. Two things you never do: attack early, and on a downhill.
- I had learned what it means to ride the Tour de France. It's not about the bike. It's a metaphor for life, not only the longest race in the world but also the most exalting and heartbreaking and potentially tragic. It poses every conceivable element to the rider, and more: cold, heat mountains, plains, ruts, flat tires (Ed. - bloody American spelling), high winds, unspeakably bad luck, unthinkable beauty, yawning senselessness, and above all a great, deep self-questioning. During our lives we're faced with so many different elements as well, we experience so many setbacks, and fight such a hand-to-hand battle with failure, head down in the rain, just trying to stay upright and to have a little hope. The Tour is not just a bike race, not at all. It is a test. It tests you physically, it tests you mentally, and it even tests you morally.
- I thought I knew what fear was, until I heard the words You have cancer. Real fear came with an unmistakable sensation: it was as though all my blood started flowing in the wrong direction. My previous fears, fear of not being liked, fear of being laughed at, fear of losing my money, suddenly seemed like small cowardices. Everything now stacked up differently: the anxieties of life - a flat tire, losing my career, a traffic jam - were reprioritized into need versus want, real problem as opposed to minor scare. A bumpy plane ride was just a bumpy plane ride, it wasn't cancer.
- There is an unthinking simplicity in something so hard, which is why there's probably some truth to the idea that all world-class athletes are actually running away from something.
- The more I thought about it, the more cancer began to seem like a race to me. Only the destination had changed.
- I was very attentive - there is something about staring as your brain metastases that focuses a person.
- While I was sick, I told myself I'd never cuss again, never drink another beer again, never lose my temper again. I was going to be the greatest and most clean-living guy you could hope to meet. But life goes on. Things change, intentions get lost. You have another beer. You say another cussword.
- I found myself out in front among the top climbers in the world, working alone I intended to make them suffer until they couldn't breathe.
- "If you ever get a second chance in life for something, you've got to go all the way." - interview following his first win in the Tour de France.
- Things take place, there is a confluence of events and circumstances, and we can't always know their purpose, or even if there is one. But we can take responsibility for ourselves and be brave.
- Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quite, however, it lasts forever.
- But if there is one thing I don't want to hear, it's that I can't do something. Telling me that is the best way to make sure that I'll do it.- We drove down to the hospital, where I spent some time with my old friend the MRI machine, which revealed a fracture of the C-7 vertebra. Basically, I had broken my neck. After years of trying, I had finally done it.
- We remind ourselves that it's a myth to say that I beat cancer. The drugs beat cancer. The doctors beat cancer. I just survived it.
- I still ride my bike into the hill country above Austin, and the trucks still blow by. But now a lot of the truck drivers recognize (Ed. damn Yankee spelling again) me in my U.S. Postal team jersey. Some wave. Some take a hard look. And some still try to run me off the road.


Anonymous said...

What a great read. He is so talented and gifted. He is an inspiration to us all! Mitch

Mirza Ghalib said...

Simply awe inspiring, a must for your collection of inspirational books

A perfect gift to a person suffering from cancer. After going through Lance's story it might become a life changer / saver for the patient

LiveStrong with Lance Armstrong - complete message of the book in one line

Literature Review

1) An easy read, if you have standard Indian vocublary, you won't require the dictionary not even the pocket one

2) A good gauge to check your reading comprehension skills you should be able to finish it two days

If you don't meet any of the above two conditions you need to seriously review yourself on the above two parameters (Take it easy, just kidding)

Hammy said...

Love your comment Mirza.