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Why Lance Wins the Tour
 
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 7/27/2002
Why Lance Wins the Tour
 

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 him.

"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 disappearing taillights.

"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 surgery."

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.)


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