Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I'm gonna bunny hop my way across America!

A 61-year old British grandmother has just spent the past 4 1/2 years running 20,000 around the world. Her reason? To "raise awareness about cancer after the death of her husband from prostate cancer." OK, noble. But I gotta ask....why???

What prompts people to do things like this? What weird gene kicks in that makes biking across Finland or circumnavigating New Zealand in an inflatable canoe seem like a smart thing to do? I mean when my best friend died of AIDS my first thought was not "I'm gonna publicize the AIDS epidemic by riding a yak across South America."

Do gesture like this really inspire people? Would you read this news story and think, "you know, I haven't had a mammogram this year." I don't. Mostly I read about such events and just shake my head. Perhaps I'm just not adventurous enough. I'm sure this woman met all sorts of interesting people (including some crazy guy with a blood-stained axe) and no doubt has a lifetime of stories to tell. ("Every hear about the time I was running across Siberia and all my fillings froze and cracked?") But this really does not appeal to me.

When my friend died, what I did do was volunteer at an AIDS organization where I helped train others to be caregivers. I thought that was a practical way of taking my pain and doing something positive with it. And while I know for certain that I did have an effect on others, should I wonder if I would have had more of an effect with the yak and South America? I was only able to help dozens of people -- the running lady was on The Martha Stewart Show. Well I can't compete with Martha. But again, does being sandwiched between a recipe for Foofyberry Tartlets and a feature on how to turn old cashmere sweaters into pot holders really make that big a difference in raising awareness about cancer?

And again, how much awareness do we need? Is there anyone who hasn't heard of cancer? (OK, maybe those natives in the Amazon they just terrorized with a helicopter.) Is there any woman who doesn't know she needs to get a mammogram? Any man who doesn't know about prostrate screening? Anybody who doesn't know that smoking is bad for you? So what, exactly, am I supposed to learn from a 61-year old woman who just ran around the world?

The only thing I've learned is that she's in much better shape than I.

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