Now that some of the frenzy over Lance Armstrong’s recent admissions has died down, I thought it might be a good time for me to weigh in. You see, I hold the title of LIVESTRONG Global Envoy (really, it's on their website and everything). As such, I am asked to use my paltry celebrity and limited influence to spread awareness of the LIVESTRONG Foundation’s programs. (LIVESTRONG is the foundation that Lance founded to help cancer patients and survivors, among others.)
It’s become clear to me in recent weeks that I have not done a very good job.
I am tired to the bone of the criticisms people continue to hurl toward the LIVESTRONG Foundation, based on crimes Lance committed as a cyclist. Whether the LIVESTRONG Foundation does good work, uses its donated resources responsibly and efficiently, and benefits the people its mandate directs it to are separate issues from whether Lance ever cheated, or lied, or lied about cheating. Still, every article I read about Lance is followed by vitriolic attacks on LIVESTRONG, by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. In fact, it’s obvious they’ve made no effort to inform themselves.
There are numerous organizations that are devoted to investigating charities. One only has to want to learn. These groups have already looked into LIVESTRONG and found it to be one of the best-run, most efficient, and most effective charities in existence. My favorite is CharityNavigator.org, which gives the LIVESTRONG Foundation its highest four-star rating. They determine that 82 percent of incoming funds go directly into program expenses, with 6.1 percent going toward administrative expenses; both percentages are better than national averages for similar charities. LIVESTRONG has a fundraising efficiency of $0.14 spent for each dollar in donations received, which is slightly less efficient than the most desirable category possible. So the worst thing Charity Navigator has to say about the LIVESTRONG Foundation is that they are operating with fundraising efficiency that is just about as good as it can be. There’s far too much data available to quote here, but I encourage everyone to look. I can’t imagine why anyone would give to any charity without taking at least a peek.
But what is LIVESTRONG? What do they do that’s so special that I would take on this debate? It’s simple: LIVESTRONG provides free services to help anyone affected by cancer. The Foundation helps patients gain access to appropriate medical treatments. They find assistance for the uninsured and underinsured. And they directly intercede with insurers and advocate for those facing insurance denials and appeals.
Want more? LIVESTRONG helps handle debt and financial management issues related to cancer diagnoses. They help people apply for federal and state programs such as Medicaid, Social Security, and Disability. The Foundation also offers counseling, support groups, classes, and peer-to-peer connections. The Foundation helps people understand risks and options related to cancer treatments and fertility (something doctors are notoriously lax about), helps access discounted rates for fertility preservation, and helps people find local fertility-related resources. LIVESTRONG offers free help in understanding treatment options, in seeking second opinions, and in identifying clinical trials that would be most beneficial and appropriate.
Take another look at that last clause. “…identifying clinical trials that would be most beneficial and appropriate.” When I was 25 years old, newly in remission from leukemia that was expected to quickly return, the world-renowned hospital treating me in New York never informed me of any clinical trials going on anywhere else. Doctors encouraged me to have a bone marrow transplant there, even though they had no dedicated bone marrow transplant unit, almost no nursing experience with bone marrow transplantation, and had attempted only two such transplants at that point.
Meanwhile, less than 200 miles away, Johns Hopkins Hospital had already published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrating better long-term leukemia survival rates after the type of bone marrow transplant I needed than anyone had ever achieved. The study was made up of more than 100 patients, each of whom had been treated at the Johns Hopkins Bone Marrow Transplant Unit—which, since the study’s completion, had performed nearly a hundred more.
Two institutions, only a car ride apart. One offering experience and documentation of unprecedented success, the other pressuring me to become part of their experiment. In order to discover this, I had to travel from New York City to Seattle, where a kind doctor told me about what they were doing at Johns Hopkins; then to Baltimore for a consultation; and then back to New York—all while unwell, and under extraordinary time pressure to make a choice before the leukemia recurred. If LIVESTRONG had existed then, the whole campaign could have been conducted by phone. And it would have been free of charge.
Most profoundly, LIVESTRONG has been a spearhead in the massive cultural shift toward pride in survivorship, and away from the stigmatization previously associated with cancer diagnoses. Their quarterly LIVESTRONG Challenge bike rides and runs each draw thousands of people. These events place emphasis on the continuation of life, on setting goals and accepting challenges, on maintaining and improving physical fitness throughout a cancer diagnosis, throughout treatment, and throughout the life that follows. I have attended these events and been inexpressibly moved. The volume of humanity, either physically present or represented by names scrawled on vests and placards, is a devastating indictment of our culture’s refusal to eliminate, or simply reduce, many of the known causes of these illnesses. The determination of those present is a testament to human beings’ abilities to turn tragedies, which can never be erased, into triumphs that will also always be remembered.
I fear the misinformation will continue. Some people prefer lashing out to learning. I wish instead they would log online and learn about LIVESTRONG. If they learned that the Foundation does good work, and does it well, then I wish they’d make a donation. Then they’d have done something good, instead of just complaining about something we can all agree is bad.
I sent a donation to LIVESTRONG this morning. It’s the least I could do. They have been there for me every time I’ve called, and for everyone I’ve ever sent their way. It’s their job. And they do it very well.
Evan Handler is an actor and author best known from HBO's Sex and the City, as well as Showtime's current Californication. Handler has also played significant roles in such films and television shows as Ransom, Taps, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Lost, The West Wing, and It’s Like, You Know… Evan is the author of two highly regarded books, Time On Fire: My Comedy of Terrors, and It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive. Learn more at EvanHandler.com.
A more detailed examination of this issue by Evan Handler is currently available at HuffingtonPost.com.
© 2013 Evan Handler
These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.
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