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Monday, October 22, 2012 - 2:08pm
For years Lou Hablas has worn the iconic yellow Livestrong bracelet in honor of his uncle, stepmother and friends who have lost loved ones to cancer. He also has supported the cancer charity as a volunteer photographer at sporting events that raise money for Livestrong's programs.
The 49-year-old Georgia resident says he'll continue to wear the bracelet despite news that embattled cyclist Lance Armstrong is stepping down as chairman of the charity he founded 15 years ago. But the poster of Armstrong leading his Discovery teammates in the team time trial at the 2005 Tour de France is coming down from his office wall amid news that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency found "overwhelming" evidence of Armstrong's involvement in doping as a professional cycler.
"As a human being who has watched too many people suffer the loss of a loved one -- especially as a child -- I love what Lance created in Livestrong," Hablas said. "As a cyclist, I love what Lance accomplished, though like so many others I always suspected that he was guilty of doping."
Like many who admired the accomplished cyclist and cancer research advocate, Hablas is attempting to reconcile images of Armstrong as a fallen hero and a cancer survivor who used his stardom to dramatically change the stigma attached to the disease.
"What Lance initiated through the formation of a foundation in his name and efforts through Livestrong far exceed this formal and seemingly final recognition of Lance's fallibility," Hablas said in a CNN iReport. "Cancer sucks and it is much bigger than Lance Armstrong."
In the wake of yesterday's news that the allegations cost Armstrong a major endorsement deal with Nike and chairmanship of Livestrong, CNN iReport solicited views on Twitter on Armstrong's conflicting legacy using the hashtag #livestrongthoughts.
"Casting the doping allegations aside, Lance Armstrong did more good than bad, he changed a generation's view on cancer," tweeted Eric Liu, echoing a common sentiment.
"My #livestrongthoughts are it's not about Lance but about helping cancer patients. Doper or not, cancer patients rely on #livestrong," user Alex Anderson said.
Others, however, who saw Armstrong as a symbol of hope and solidarity were completely devastated by his fall, with some cynically wondering if Livestrong was a front to deflect attention from doping allegations.
"It seemed that only a few years after his early comeback, he reverted into the same crass and cocky fella he was known to be pre-cancer. He lost any humility and never seemed contrite or thankful to be alive anymore," iReporter Paul Smeulders said. 'It appeared he started using LIVESTRONG as a brand to elevate himself and as a shield to cover or dodge criticism of his unsportsmanlike behavior."
Wendy Adams of Manchester, Pennsylvania, and her sisters have been wearing their yellow bracelets since their father was diagnosed with end stage prostate cancer in 2004.
"We bought bracelets for more strength, for unity, and suddenly Lance wasn't just an athlete any longer, he was hope," Adams, 51, said in a CNN iReport. "We were connected to others who were proudly wearing the same [bracelet] yet living this horror of cancer, all of us, together with Lance, a man who went through it, and came out stronger and better."
When her father died in 2005, the family respected his wish to be cremated wearing the bracelet and spent $200 dollars on the bracelets for family and friends to hand out.
Now, she says she can't wear the bracelet with pride anymore because of its connection to Armstrong and the organization. She has taken it off and vows to never again wear it.
"My heart is broken by this news. I never thought Lance was involved in doping, I thought he was above it, an honest man with integrity and honor," she said. "Lance is Livestrong, he is the face of hope. And when that face is that of a liar, a manipulator, for me? I can't wear it with pride anymore."
Still many see the charity as something bigger than Armstrong and plan to continue supporting the charity and wearing the bracelet. Less certain is whether Armstrong will retain his hero status.
Sarah Atwell, a 29-year-old breast cancer survivor, said she'll continue to wear the bracelet because of what it means for those who have been touched by the disease.
"To me, the organization has become more than Lance. It has established itself as a valuable resource for cancer survivors and families and that is more important than these allegations," Atwell said in an iReport.
"The yellow wrist band that I wear each day reminds me of all that I have been through, the people I have known and lost along the way, and that we have a long way to go in our collective fight against cancer," she said. "It represents my friend Adam's struggle and shows cancer survivors that others are thinking about cancer."
Avid cyclist Eric Hoffman lost his father to bladder cancer in 2001, two painful months after his diagnosis.
"My father's death afforded me the opportunity to look at life in a very different way. That day that I saw him close his eyes for the last time, I knew that I didn't want anyone else to have to go through the same experience that he did."
He purchased a Livestrong bracelet as a sign of hope, strength and perseverance against the disease, he said.
"I also use it as a reminder, when I'm climbing those long lonely steep canyons on the bike, that the pain and suffering that I'm enduring is pittance and short-lived compared to what others are experiencing in their battle against cancer," Hoffman, 42, said in an iReport.
When a friend recently asked if he still wears the bracelet, Hoffman told him, "it'll come off when there's a cure for cancer."
"I still wear the bracelet and always will until this thing is cured. It helps me to maintain focus on what is important."
Carlos Rosado, and iReporter, believes that Armstrong's controversy has tainted Livestrong's legacy. Rosado has supported the charity since its inception, but he would like to see its name changed in order to continue his support. He also says that Armstrong should no longer be the face of the charity.
"Seven Tour de France wins is a long time to keep up a lie. He was worshipped and adored by many people," said Rosado, 42.
"If you can't accomplish the feat without cheating then it is not a feat," he said. "It is a lie, and lots of people were looking up to those lies."