Lance Armstrong will ride into Paris Sunday and claim his fourth Tour de
France victory. But there are many who envision an even bigger victory
when they think of Armstrong: He is a cancer survivor whose chances were very
slim a few short years ago. If he can do it, well then, maybe they can too. He
tried; by God, so will they.
His cancer, well advanced when it was discovered, had made the inevitable
progression from its origin point to a dozen golf ball-sized tumors in his lungs
and lesions on his brain. He underwent
three surgeries and four rounds of aggressive chemotherapy that would hopefully
preserve his lungs but arrest the three different cancer types in his body. He
educated himself on the disease. In
the middle of his treatment, his cycling team wanted to renegotiate his
contract. Later he would find US Postal was the only team that would support
"One minute you're pedaling along a highway, and the next minute, boom,
you're face-down in the dirt. A blast of hot air hits you, you taste the acrid,
oily exhaust in the roof of your mouth, and all you can do is wave a fist at the
"Cancer was like that. It was like being run off the road by a truck, and
I've got the scars to prove it. There's a puckered wound in my upper chest just
above my heart, which is where the catheter was implanted. A surgical line runs
from the right side of my groin into my upper thigh, where they cut out my
testicle. But the real prizes are two deep half-moons in my scalp, as if I was
kicked twice in the head by a horse. Those are the leftovers from brain
But Lance kept riding, during his treatment, and after. He missed a season
but gradually came back to form. "In a way, the old me did die, and I was given
a second life. Even my body is different, because during the chemotherapy I lost
all the muscle I had ever built up, and when I recovered, it didn't come back in
the same way."
During his treatment Armstrong also founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation to
promote "survivorship," which he feels is the most significant aspect of dealing
with cancer. To him, it is not about being a victim, it is about being a survivor and
the quality of life that one can attain. The LAF and its volunteer raises millions of dollars a
year for research and funding of survivorship programs and has a cancer
education website in conjunction with a pharmaceutical firm. It sponsors a huge
cycling and cancer awareness weekend each spring in Texas. It recently announced
survivorship research legislation with a bipartisan group of US legislators.
But Lance walking, talking, racing and winning brings as much hope to cancer
patients around the world as any foundation or legislation.
A fourteen year old cancer survivor was the guest of honor at yesterday's Stage
19. Cancer victims in France, receiving their treatments,
cry when they see him racing on the television, and wait outside his tour bus in
hopes of an autograph.
And not only that.
"Lance brings a lot of attention to the fact that [testicular cancer] is a
young man's disease," said Doug Ulman of the LAF. In a Florida Today article,
Ulman stated that after Armstrong's 2001 Tour win, the LAF was swamped with
e-mails, calls and letters from cancer survivors.
Lance saves lives too. One Florida physician reported that after
Armstrong has won a Tour, the doctor sees an increase in the number of men
wanting to be tested for that type of cancer.
Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, says, "Lance’s comeback from cancer to
bike racing wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t without its setbacks. But he slowly
regained his strength and rediscovered the joy he felt riding a bicycle. In 1998
we sat together and talked about his plans. He was a world-class cyclist again,
but what did he want to do?
"Lance decided that winning the biggest race in the world was the best thing
he could do for other people dealing with cancer. A lot of people helped him
through his struggle against the disease, and he wanted to return that support
to as many people as he could reach."
Thank you, Lance.
(Thanks to the Franklin Institute Online, Cycle of Hope, Association of Online
Cancer Resources, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Lance Armstrong: It's Not
About the Bike, Florida Today.)