About nine years ago, a former colleague of mine mailed me a copy of Lance Armstrong’s autobiography centring on the famous bicyclist’s fight against cancer.
And it was no coincidence that I received the book when I was engaged in my own battle of a lifetime, facing deadly skirmishes with a formidable enemy that had infiltrated my colon and spread to my liver, distributing its poison in a battle that appeared to have been lost when doctors said my condition was terminal, that my life-switch was going to be turned off in the very near future, that nothingness awaited.
Conventional wisdom would say, I guess, that people in my state would have read just about any piece of literature that had the potential to ameliorate a patently justified fear that the graveyard 50 yards up the road was to be the “dust to dust, ashes to ashes” place of “rest” in a short while.
You’d think I would have been so desperate that if I had been told that reading the Koran would have given me peace of mind, I would have immediately placed an XL turban on my oversized head and read with a vengeance anything Muhammad had to say about life and death.
But, no, the Koran wasn’t on my agenda, nor was the Bible, nor any other kind of religious or evangelical literature. I wasn’t even tempted, during my lowest points, to resurrect some of the garbage buried deep in my skull from my days as a brainwashed Catholic youngster.
With the grim reaper on the doorstep, I’m sure there were friends and loved ones who couldn’t believe I wasn’t prepared to hand myself over to the Lord, or some other form of higher power, and cover all my tracks as my body began to call it quits.
These were many of the same people who would probably insist, as that old cliché goes, that there are no atheists or agnostics in a foxhole, that when desperate enough, everyone reaches out for a god.
Well, I was in the foxhole, bombarded by tumours, facing an unambiguous forecast of eminent death, but I refused to play the hypocrite and conveniently alter my disbelief in the hereafter and a spiritual being (including the big guy with the beard who knew the thoughts of every single person, the billions and billions, whoever set foot on the Earth).
But, as I implied before getting on this rant against those who believe you should believe what they believe or you are damned, it was only Lance the Liar’s book I wound up reading back then (other than the odd escapist novel).
And you know something? It left me feeling as cold as ice.
Sure, I was delighted to know that an individual had survived the sort of dramatic and normally fatal metastases that had occurred in my system, and that there were extraordinary examples of often inexplicable cures, that if someone with Armstrong’s history could survive, then maybe, just maybe, I could as well.
But, other than that, Armstrong came across as shallow and phoney and incredibly arrogant, and did nothing for me (despite my emotional vulnerability at that time).
He was anything but inspiring, largely because he was a complete pig, a megalomaniac who treated colleagues, friends and loved ones like crap.
Nothing in the world mattered more to Lance than Lance.
Sure, Armstrong started an international movement to fight cancer, raised millions of dollars and convinced everyone from U.S. presidents to movie stars and jocks to wear a yellow band around their wrists (the pretentious “in” thing for a while). And I’m sure Livestrong did some good in the world.
But I doubt, given his monstrous ego, that Livestrong was a result of a profound, altruistic calling on Armstrong’s part to play a prominent role in the fight against cancer; rather, it was another example of self-aggrandizement, another way for Lance the Liar to say, “Look at me, aren’t I just the grandest person on the face on the Earth?”
And he certainly picked an appropriate person last week for his “tell all.” Armstrong made his confession, as all know by now, to the High Priestess of tabloid television, Oprah Winfrey, no slouch herself in the area of immodesty, smothered in self-centredness.
Winfrey cannot perform a good work anywhere in the universe without a camera crew trailing along, documenting her every example of philanthropy and sharing the video with any soul with access to a television set.
So, to say the least, I watched those two interviews last week, or at least until my stomach became decidedly weak, with a heavy sense of cynicism.
I never considered Armstrong a hero, even before the whispers about doping began.
You don’t become a hero because you’re a jock who’s survived cancer.
Handing cancer its walking papers, having it leave your system, hopefully for good (the state of health in which I am) is, more often than not, a matter of pure luck, as an oncologist once told me.
There are real heroes in this battle with cancer, though: the best examples are the women who testified at the inquiry into the botched breast cancer tests in Newfoundland.
They were true, bonafide heroes.
But Lance Armstrong?
He was, and is, a jerk, a bum.
And has now shown himself to be a pathological liar and a cheat as well.
That book that was sent my way is now buried somewhere in Robin Hood Bay.
Right where it belongs.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.