Reading the Livestrong Wall


This picture is of a wall at the Saratoga Springs branch of the Saratoga Regional YMCA where I work out and serve as a trustee. Located on the second floor at one end of the indoor track, it refers to the Livestrong at the YMCA program which promotes physical fitness for people dealing with cancer diagnoses. When they first introduced the wall, it was a pristine expanse of glossy yellow paint. One day when I was doing some laps, I noticed someone had written her name on the wall. Then, over the course of the next few weeks, more and more names appeared. Eventually there were dozens of signatures surrounding the Livestrong logo, as you can see from the picture.

The signatures represent a broad spectrum of cancer diagnoses, from manageable to terminal. Some of the signatures are new, some are from survivors who have completed the program and resumed their everyday lives. Some are from people who lost their battle but whose names remain to tell us they fought like hell.

It’s a remarkable document, this wall. I wonder how many of us out there on the track think about the story behind each of those signatures—the terrifying diagnosis, MRIs, blood tests, chemo, surgery, radiation, hair loss, weight loss, waiting for the next test result. All the worry, hope, fear, and triumph. The best story, though, is told by the wall as a collective. It’s a narrative of defiance scrawled with Sharpies for everyone to see.

Or, as I like to think of it, one, big f*** off to cancer.

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