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LIVESTRONG: Every rose tells a story

August 26, 2011

Flowers provided by

Here are 150 beautiful long-stemmed yellow roses.

They are stunning and brilliant and light up a room instantly.

People smile when they see them.

Think of each of these roses as someone with cancer: a survivor with feeling-good days, up-and-down days, bad or worried days and just-normal days. They may be someone battling cancer right now, someone in recent recovery or a long-time survivor.

Now think of each of these roses as someone you know: maybe a loved one, a neighbor, classmate, community member, coworker, social media connection, a person you just happened to meet or a dear close friend. It doesn’t take long to fill a bucket with yellow roses representing cancer survivors.

Imagine how powerful it must be to see cancer survivors and thousands of their cheerleaders (also known as care givers and friends) challenge themselves physically and mentally to participate in a LIVESTRONG Challenge. Stand at the starting line and you will become overwhelmed by the sea of bicycle helmets and running shoes.

Each cancer survivor that crosses the finish line of a LIVESTRONG Challenge, whether walking, running, strolling or riding a bike, is handed a long-stemmed yellow rose. It is a symbolic monument to every survivor, because it represents their story: the future they enjoy today.

The yellow rose is pure joy for every cancer survivor crossing the line.

Every participant has a cancer connection.

Every cancer survivor’s story is traumatic. That’s what makes their journey so powerful.  They didn’t ask for this. Cancer just sneaked up on them like a thief in their home, taking what it wants and leaving everything in shambles. To survive, they must defend themselves.  Fight.

You can’t be untouched when you see a small child walk across the finish line of a LIVESTRONG Challenge, wearing a sign that says, “I am a Survivor.”  They are our babies and our future. They deserve a healthy life.

Not to be missed are the two fist-raised and drenched buddies, who crossed the finish line after riding 75 miles in the wind and rain on a bicycle, only to break down in tears at how that trip represented their journey against cancer.  They both survived the ultimate physical challenge and they did it together.

LIVESTRONG Challenge participants know their journey would not have been possible today were it not for the money that was donated years ago for research and community-based programs.  That investment allowed new treatments and programs to be developed that benefit them. They now want a future without cancer for themselves and for you.

They are already empowered in their mission to get more information, to make their own choices in their treatments, to implement positive lifestyle choices in their households, and, ultimately, to give back.

My helper for the day

People often ask me where does the money go that is donated to LIVESTRONG.  Here are some quick notes.

  • In 2010 LIVESTRONG funded 80 new community programs across the country, which will ultimately serve more than 30,000 individuals affected by cancer. That is in addition to the programs that LIVESTRONG funded in the previous 13 years.
  • Through June of this year LIVESTRONG served 240,390 with its LIVESTRONG at School program, LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program and Community Impact Projects. (This is one of my favorites, since my local Y is exactly 3.1 miles from home.)
  • Some 142,974 families were serviced this year through its Navigation Services Team, saving them $1,637,900.
  • Through May, LIVESTRONG trained 30,674 health professionals, thanks to its partners at ASCO,, and NOEP.

So when you see someone riding by wearing a LIVESTRONG cycling jersey, or the waiter in a restaurant is sporting a yellow wristband, or you see a child with no hair, the result of cancer treatments or you hear of a community-wide rally for a local family, think about the bucket full of yellow roses and the cancer survivors you know.  They are here today, because of the work that was done by others yesterday. I assure you that they don’t want cancer to define their life: their survivorship does.

Every yellow rose tells a story.  Every story has a lesson. Through their participation in the LIVESTRONG Challenge that lesson is their shared legacy, one that will blossom and flourish like a magnificent yellow rose.

Note: With over 5000 runners and riders and 600 volunteers, this year’s Philadelphia LIVESTRONG Challenge accumulated $2.6 million in contributions to go towards the fight against cancer.

I had a pleasure of managing the Survivor Rose Line at this year’s LIVESTRONG Challenge in Philadelphia with an awesome team of volunteers.  My favorite part was handing roses to my friends, all 900 of them, including the first one across the line, the 7-time Tour de France winner, and the last one, who could not be stopped by cancer or a weekend of thunderous rain and lightning.

Also, much thanks to for providing the LIVESTRONG Philadelphia with these beautiful roses again.  They remain a vision of hope for everyone.

Laurens Flannagan (left) - my amazing friend who helped me all weekend

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Geoff Moulton permalink
    August 26, 2011 10:42 pm

    More than just a community, we are a family and the challenge is one of our reunions. We remember those who are not with us and celebrate their lives. We enjoy the company of old friends and welcome into the family new ones.

    • August 26, 2011 11:35 pm

      So beautifully put, Geoff. Thank you. This was my fifth LIVESTRONG Challenge and I can see the reunions beginning.

  2. August 27, 2011 8:02 am

    I rode my first LIVESTRONG Challenge in Philly last year. I rode as a supporter – not as a survivor. I was touched by cancer only by losing my grandmother when I was 5, my aunt, who kept her battle distant and relatively silent, who survived breast cancer, and a series of friends and mentors who fought cancer. My children, nor my parents, never fought cancer themselves. And I was cancer-free. (Spoiler alert: So I thought.)

    I was challenging myself physically, more in the spirit of LIVESTRONG as opposed to the literal mission. I pushed myself, but didn’t make the cut-off to continue the 100 mile, as it was cancelled due to rain, and my back was giving out. But I crossed the general public line, and wept, because not only did I feel I failed my mission of 100 miles, but because I knew I’d achieved something, and I was so moved by all the people cheering on the finishers, and I crossed the finish line at the same time as a survivor, and I watched how they were treated. And it was beautiful.

    Ironically, after lunch, I returned to my bike, and someone had very purposefully woven a yellow survivor rose into the spokes of my front wheel – and there was no way anyone could mistake my bike for theirs – it was the only bike there with solid purple tires, Bianchi Celeste handlebar tape, and an obnoxious pink fuel box. Perhaps this person knew something I didn’t.

    My second LIVESTRONG Challenge was in Austin, where my son joined me, and we volunteered. I was to ride for my friend’s father, who died of pancreatic cancer the day before the ride. And my heart ached for him as I had to get an “In Memory Of” bib for him. And I rode for friends and sponsors, dozens of them, who’d had me bring almost 50 bibs for the Tribute Wall. Again, in Austin, I didn’t complete the 90 – we cut our rides short as we began to bonk and dehydrate more than halfway through – but we both put in 70 or so miles (not bad for a 12-year old on his first real road ride). And, again, we both were moved as our names were called and we were cheered for our fundraising efforts, even though we’d fallen short of our goal. And I saw the line of volunteers with yellow roses.

    This year, we’re already registered for the Austin Challenge. And I was hoping to volunteer on Saturday at the Philly Challenge. I knew I’d have to miss the ride itself, as that was the day I had to pick the kids up from camp. However, in July, I learned there was a more pressing matter I’d have to attend to Challenge weekend. I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer.

    In October, I’m going to be riding with a very different mission, and one that I’d never DREAMED I’d be doing, let alone this early in life. I’ll be riding for myself. Lord help me, I’m going to have to have one of the “Survivor” bibs on my back. And I’m going to be going through that Survivor chute, where my daughter (who is signed up to volunteer to pass out yellow roses, anyway) will be giving me my yellow rose.

    I love roses. I always have. It’s my birth flower. It’s my favorite smell in the rose. But it’s the one rose that I never wanted to be given. And, at the same time, I know I’m going to be so proud to accept.

    • August 27, 2011 12:32 pm


      Thank you for sharing this amazing story. I too was already an ambassador for LIVESTRONG when my husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. I went right downstairs and grabbed a Survivorship book off the shelf (I ordered them to distribute to my doctors) and read it cover to cover. That night I surfed the LIVESTRONG website and gained more knowledge about how to organize myself. We had our plan together quickly.

      We were very fortunate that we had a great big circle of family and friends who were ready to help and, yet, we really didn’t need a lot of help. We had just moved into a new home and our builder kept checking in on us. People kept checking in and we were so very thankful for that. Still.

      People sent us food and flowers and personal notes. It was the subtle little check-ins from friends that made all the difference. When people say attitude is everything with your cancer journey, it REALLY is. If I felt a meltdown coming on, I’d go for a run, so my husband didn’t see it. I prayed hard and finally listened to my mother who warned me to get enough sleep.

      I hope you have a good circle of caregivers organized to help you during your treatment. Don’t hesitate to give folks small assignments. They will be glad to help. Please stay in touch with us.

      Have fun in Austin. I can’t make it there this year, but I will next year. Send me stories.


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