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I sat by her bed and read the sentences, over and over, so many times I lost count.
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 quit, however, it lasts forever. That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me. So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with?
My mom refused to quit.
She tortured herself, fighting through as many grueling cycles of chemotherapy as doctors would allow. In the more than three years of her treatment, they’d never seen someone go through as many cycles as she had.
She diagnosed her own cancer after being misdiagnosed multiple times. A talented doctor in her own right, she spent hours scouring over medical literature, convinced she would find the cause of what began as nothing more than a slight cough.
She traveled the country seeking a cure for the tumor in her chest that few other women had experienced.
Yet, as I sat by her bedside for the last time, and she spoke the final six words she would ever say to me; the fight was over.
“I’m sorry Josh, I just can’t.”
She lied there in sheer agony, undoubtedly more tortured by the thought of quitting than the pain coursing through her veins.
But she’s not the quitter.
The true quitter is the man who penned that first, infamous quote.
Lance Armstrong reportedly announced in a two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey, his use of performance enhancing drugs.
But unlike similar admissions from other noted athletes, this one stings more.
This one leaves me with regret. And pain. And anger. And shame. And sadness too immense and immeasurable to quantify.
It makes me feel like my mom was manipulated and lied to, taken advantage of in her darkest hour.
When you’re immersed in the fight of your life, you need something to believe in.
A belief that you could not only survive cancer, but live a thriving, prosperous life, physically stronger than ever before.
For my mom, and millions of people around the world, that belief was personified in Armstrong.
She read his books until the binding was worn.
She traveled to Indianapolis to visit his doctor.
She watched the Tour de France annually and remarked confidently as Armstrong trailed the pack, “Wait ‘till he gets to the mountains. That’s where he takes over.”
Sure enough he did, year after year, sending the immeasurably powerful message that the cancer survivor was stronger than everyone during the race’s toughest and most grueling stretch.
That’s tainted now, tarnished. I guess it always was.
I’m left with the betrayal my mom isn’t around to feel.
Following my mom’s death, I used to wear Livestrong bracelets in her memory.
It wasn’t because Armstrong meant so much to me, but rather what he meant to her.
I never needed to look to some national figure for inspiration.
I had a living, breathing hero in my house. A woman who spent her life saving the lives of others and fought with the strength of thousands to stay alive for the two young children she knew desperately needed the love only she could give.
Cancer destroyed my family. It just did.
It’s left me with a pain I feel every single day. A pain I’ll never be able to shake.
Yet each day I wake up and use every bit of strength I have to put one foot in front of the other.
I learned it from my mom.
I do it for my mom.
So, for those now living with doubt, needing something to believe in, there should be no question. True heroes still do exist.
My mom’s hero, a hero for so many, has been irrevocably sullied. My hero has not.
Josh Mansour is a men’s basketball reporter at The State News and a history senior. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.