CHICAGO -- Jennifer Longley wears her yellow bracelet in honor of her many relatives who have had cancer, including a grandfather who lost his tongue and voice box and an aunt who died of ovarian cancer.
''I also wear it for me, because I know that this is something that I will continue to deal with in my future,'' says Longley, a 24-year-old who works for the Cornell University Press in Ithaca, N.Y.
Jason ''Jazz'' Skipworth, a 26-year-old scientist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, says his bracelet gives him ''the extra motivation to work that much harder.''
And Eric Nobis, an amateur bike rider in Seattle, is convinced that his bracelet ''makes me cycle faster.''
It's just a simple band of yellow rubber, which bears the word ''LIVESTRONG'' and sells for $1 as a fund-raiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, an organization the celebrated cyclist began for fellow cancer survivors. But the yellow bracelet has become a must-have item -- and has prompted charitable organizations nationwide to create their own versions, made with various colors, materials and messages.
Some liken the fad to the POW-MIA bracelets people wore for imprisoned and missing soldiers during the Vietnam War, or say the bracelets are the latest twist on the red and pink ribbons that have become synonymous with AIDS and breast cancer, respectively.
Today, red bracelets are being sold to raise money for everything from diabetes research to children with HIV. Vistacare, a health care company in Scottsdale, Ariz., is giving out burgundy bracelets with the word ''Remember'' to get people talking about the difficult topic of hospice care.
And next Monday, the Ohio Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation will start handing out orange bracelets as a conversation starter about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Genny Neely, a 27-year-old New Yorker, is interested in getting several of the bracelets. She first saw the LIVESTRONG bands while visiting Chicago last summer and said, ''I have to have one of those.''
Now she plans to get a pink bracelet that several breast cancer organizations are selling -- and a red one from the My Soldier campaign, a program started by an Iraq war veteran that connects U.S. soldiers with civilians who send them letters and care packages. It is a way to show support for a charity, she says.
Sometimes, however, the bracelet wearers are just fashionistas.
Gregory Sutton, a 22-year-old student at Northeastern University in Boston, says he has seen people wearing LIVESTRONG bracelets while standing outside bars and smoking -- something he says they wouldn't do if they were truly worried about cancer. ''People wear them because they see celebrities wearing them,'' he says.
Jennifer Gear, a mom in Woburn, Mass., concedes that her 9-year-old begged her for ''one of those yellow bracelets that everybody has'' without really knowing what they represent.
But, she says, ''My feeling is, 'What difference does it make if it's going to a good cause?'''
Still others say that, in a small way, the various bracelets help build a sense of community.
''I think we -- as humans in a world that is more and more fragmented -- look for clues and symbols of inclusion,'' says Peter Klaus, who is 28 and lives in Washington, D.C.
Charlie Vogelheim, a 48-year-old in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., agrees. He says he often gets silent nods from passers-by who also are wearing LIVESTRONG bracelets. ''If there is a conversation, it seems to begin with a connection having already been made,'' he says.
Michael Mannhard, a 17-year-old in St. Louis, agrees that a bracelet can give ''a sense of unity,'' even among people who might have nothing else in common.
Since LIVESTRONG brace-lets are hard to find, he and his brothers, Stephen and Patrick, started making their own bracelets, made of elastic with the words ''YOU CAN DO IT!'' written on them in marker. So far, they have handed out about 400 of them to friends, family and strangers, all for free.
''That way, more people will have them,'' says Mannhard, who wears a LIVESTRONG band on one wrist and one of his own bracelets on the other.
He has, however, opted not to wear the new bracelets his school St. Louis University High School has started handing out. He says he has nothing against the bracelets, which come in school colors, blue or white, and say ''SLUHSTRONG.''
Martha Irvine is a national writer specializing in coverage of people in their 20s and younger. She can be reached at mirvine(at)ap.org.
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