Book Review: "It's Not About The Bike" by Lance Armstrong

What's it about?

“Its Not About The Bike” is the story of World Champion in cycling Lance Armstrong's fight against cancer – testicular cancer. To put things into perspective, Lance won the Tour de France – the crowning glory for any cyclist - after he had recovered from cancer; and he did it twice back-to-back. That's how inspiring his story is.

The Chronology

The book traces the life history of Lance Armstrong, his childhood in Texas being raised by a single mother, how he started riding the cycle and how he was a winner right from college days.

By the time he reached his early twenties, Lance was a world champion already. Just as his career was shaping up, cancer struck. Lance describes how he ignored some ominous signs and wrote them off as effects of intense cycling. In fact, he even rode the 1996 Olympics and did not return a good result. He did not know it at that time but he had competed in the Olympics with cancer in his body.

1996 was the year when Lance was told the three dreaded words “You have cancer”. So, here he was, at the turning point of his career, already a champion, starting to make money, beginning to train big time to conquer the Tour de France and at that opportune moment, he is diagnosed with cancer.

The Fight

The book then follows the story of how Lance fought the cancer – against all odds. His cancer was at a very advanced stage already. It had spread to his chest and even brain. He was given very low chances of survival. Lance describes the struggles that he went through – surgery, catheter, chemotherapy (which he says is worse than the disease itself). There were a lot many other challenges:

  • When he was diagnosed with cancer, Lance was moving from one team to another – so he did not have insurance!

  • He knew he would become sterile eventually (remember it was testicular cancer he suffered from), so he froze sperm with the hope that he would someday be still able to conceive a baby.

  • One of his sponsors, Cofidis, pulled the rug from under him – essentially they gave up on him.

  • There was no dearth of de motivation from all quarters.

But in spite of all this, Lance fought – he fought and survived the cancer. His key allies in the fight were:

  • Knowledge – as soon as Lance was diagnosed, he started reading up on the topic and armed himself with as much knowledge as possible. He took second and third opinions from doctors

  • His mother's unflinching devotion.

  • Friends and family's support.

  • Doctors, nurses and medicinal science.

  • Above all – spirit.

Each and every one of these factors played a crucial role in Lance's recovery and the absence of even one of these might have spelled doom.

What Next?

But surviving cancer was only the first part of the story. After recovery came yet another struggle – what to do with the rest of his life? When Lance had been sick, he had just wanted to live – even if it meant he'd never had to mount a bicycle again in his life. During the “survivorship” phase, he had all but given up on cycling. To add to it, he had to undergo tests every month for one year to ensure that cancer had not reared its ugly head again.

He was a mental wreck. He was to understand later that this is called “survivorship” and it is an extremely difficult phase to go through. He had put everything he had into fighting the disease and surviving and now that he had done it – he was spent. There was a hollow sensation and he didn't know what to do with the rest of his life.

As if putting the pieces of his life together was not difficult enough, Lance had to deal with de-motivating comments from lot of people too.

The Return

But Lance returned. He mounted the bike and when he did – he was a changed man. Before his disease, he had been a rash young man who dint think much about strategy. He used to just mount the bike and use brute force to win.

Now he was a more calculating, team-player and after a few months of riding, he know he had it in him to become a professional again. He met with tremendous de-motivation, some people just dismissed him. But he fought this battle too.

In 1999, against every possible odd, Lance won Tour de France. By now, he had married and he and his wife had also initiated the process of IVF. They wanted to have a baby.

Even this victory was not free of sour grapes. The French media accused Lance of drug abuse. Lance had to prove is innocence too. Further, many people dismissed his victory as a fluke.

And then Lance won the Tour de France again in 2000. That shut is detractors up.

The Take-Away

It's Not About the Bike” is as inspiring as a real life story can ever get. Lance maintains that cancer changed him – his life. He says cancer made him a better person and changed his perspective of life. However, I think this holds for any disease, or acute adversity that a person faces. Determination, awareness, will to fight and human spirit are indispensable to overcome any major problem in life.

I rate “It's Not About The Bike” at 4.5 stars out of 5 and I think it is a must-read for what it teaches you about life.

2 comments to Book Review: "It's Not About The Bike" by Lance Armstrong

  • I am glad U read the book….n liked it too !!!! I recollect suggesting this book to you.

    My fav g’mom is currently battling esophagus cancer and was brave up until after the chemo. She says the chemo makes her want to puke all the time n just makes her very sick. Makes me terribly sad. n I guess she can’t help asking “Why me”..specially ‘coz she hasn’t smoked a cigarette, chewed a tobacco or had a drink…once in her life!!(Those are the causes for esophagus cancer)
    Cancer is so close to the common cold these days based on the num of ppl I know who are fighting the disease. It is really unfortunate. Our generation is doing sumthing terribly wrong…I donno what!

    BTW…how is ur friend who had the disease doing? I hope he is recovering well?

  • @Pavi: Yes, you were the one who recommended this book to me when I blogged about my friend Lai who has cancer.

    Until I read the book and Lai's experience, I had no idea how difficult chemo is .. alas it is the only way to destroy the disease.

    Lai is done with all the tests but he isn't revealing the results. Check the "finale" over at his blog.

    I do hope your g'mom pulls through the chemo. I'm sure it is very difficult for someone her age - but it is her primary weapon!

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