The LiveStrong band: fundraiser or fad?

Oct. 7, 2004, midnight | By Karima Tawfik | 16 years, 8 months ago

AP World History teacher James Mogge wears the bright yellow band around his wrist both to support his brother and as inspiration to stay off cigarettes; senior Kate Johnston wears it because she saw it in People Magazine and decided to purchase one a few days later; and junior Anna Chiplis decided not to buy the bracelet, even though her father recently passed away due to cancer.

Engraved with the words "LiveStrong," these yellow rubber bracelets can be spotted on students and teachers alike on Blair Boulevard as part of the Lance Armstrong Foundation's campaign to raise money for cancer research and education. They have passed the $12 million mark in sales all over the world. But with celebrities like Matt Damon, Lindsay Lohan, Ashley Olson and even both President George W. Bush and Presidential candidate John Kerry sporting the LiveStrong bracelet, these yellow bands have become more than just a fundraiser—they are embedded into this fall's fashion.

With their popularity growing, some Blazers fear that the meaning of LiveStrong could turn from inspiration into a mere fad among consumers.

Behind the band

Lance Armstrong was 25 years old and emerging as one of the world's best cyclists when he joined the 10 million Americans living with cancer today. His testicular cancer, left untreated, spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain. When finally treated, Armstrong overcame his cancer and started his own cancer foundation. The corporation, in alliance with Nike, began a project to sell five million bands printed with "LiveStrong" for $1, to fund cancer research and awareness to help prevent the 548,000 American deaths per year due to the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Besides being the color of Armstrong's Tour de France jersey, the yellow band is meant to evoke "hope, courage, inspiration and perseverance," says Stefanie Samarripa, a Media and Public Relations intern at the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

A lost meaning

The publicity that has come with the LiveStrong bands has irritated Chiplis, whose dad was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, a cancer of the blood, five years ago. After dealing with her father's failed bone marrow transplant in March, she turned to other sources of hope, among them the Buddhist religion, where "nobody ever really dies." Instead of commemorating her father through a LiveStrong band, Chiplis wears her heart-shaped locket that features her father's photo.

"Wear yellow, LiveStrong"

For Mogge, the original message of the LiveStrong bracelet is integrated into aspects of his everyday life. When Mogge's brother was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his kidney this summer, Mogge's sister-in-law bought some bracelets from the hospital. Now, both Mogge and his brother wear the bands in hopes that "whatever obstacles we may face, we may overcome them," Mogge says.

A few years ago, Mogge faced cancer himself; after removing a melanoma on his face contracted from overexposure to the sun, he now wears the band as a reminder of health's fragility. Now, when given the chance to pick up a cigarette, instead of reaching out to take one, he tugs on his bracelet. "It keeps me from going back to smoking," he says, pursing his lips and pulling the yellow band.

Yet the majority of people who slip on their bracelets in the morning are not impacted personally by cancer. Cross-country coach Carl Lewin bought 60 bands for every member of his sports team. While he is aware that proceeds go to support cancer patients, he has also extended the meaning of the band to inspire his runners to "run better and to push themselves every day," he says. "It's more the mental aspect."

"Where can I get one?"

The symbolism of the bands may have been lost in the craze to find and buy what might now be a new accessory. Senior Anleny Beriguete sits in the courtyard wearing her band as she eats her lunch. Beriguete cashed in her $1 for a bracelet after seeing that "everyone else was wearing one," including her boss at work. Her boss told her the meaning behind the LiveStrong band only after Beriguete asked where to buy one.

Johnston thinks that the LiveStrong band may add to one's image and reputation, especially those of celebrities. She admits the band's appeal may be fashion; its appearance in People magazine prompted her to buy one.

Some of Chiplis' friends have offered to buy the bands from one another for more than just $1, allowing the seller to pocket the profits. It is these people who Chiplis feels are insensitive to the bracelet's underlying meaning and are numb to how cancer impacts on a personal level, as it has for Chiplis and her loved ones, who spent the past year driving to and from Baltimore to visit her dad at Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH).

Chiplis explains that she supports cancer research through other means, like joining in swim-a-thons and run-a-thons organized by JHH.

With demands for the bracelets high, most stores have run out of bands. Yet Mogge notes that while people seem concerned over where to buy the bracelets, they are not so concerned about the intent of the band. Says Mogge, "They just ask, ‘Where can I get one?'"

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