NEW YORKThree years after being diagnosed with testicular
cancer, Lance Armstrong bicycled 2,455 miles to win the Tour de
France in 1999. St. Louis Cardinals baseball player Eric Davis was
diagnosed with colon cancer in 1997, returned to the field 5 weeks
after surgery, and hit a game-deciding home run in the playoffs. The
crowd gave him a 5-minute standing ovation.
The two athletes, along with a panel of doctors, talked to the public
about overcoming the fear of cancer during an interactive video
webcast sponsored by the Coalition of National Cancer Cooperative Groups.
Mr. Armstrong said his battle with cancer started in October 1996
when he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer that had spread
to his lungs and brain. The tumor was removed the morning after
I was diagnosed, and I started therapy the following Monday. I was 24
years old, and I felt like I had a lot to donot in cycling but
in life. I definitely reached out for help. I was lucky. I had a lot
of people helping me look for information. Its a rare illness,
but not so rare that you dont find anybody. I knew some folks
whod had it, and I was able to talk to them.
Mr. Armstrong kept preparing for the big race. I rode through
the chemotherapy. The first two treatment cycles were not so hard on
me, but for the last two, I didnt feel very good. Three
years later he became the first American riding for an American team
to win the Tour de France in 96 years.
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In June 1997, baseball veteran Eric Davis was diagnosed with
colorectal cancer. He was successfully treated with surgery and
chemotherapy. But when he first found out, Mr. Davis recalls, he was
I had to quickly regroupto worry about myself, my wife,
my two girls. My support system came from friends and familyand,
as a professional athlete, I got more support than the average
person, Mr. Davis said. I dont know if the cancer
is ever going to come back, but its not going to stop me from
living my life. I continue to find reasons to keep fighting and
thats what survivors have to do, to find a reason to live,
because its easy to give up.
The Physicians View
The physicians on the panel were asked what they recommend for
getting past the fear of cancer. Michael OConnell, MD,
professor of medical research and consultant in the Division of
Medical Oncology, the Mayo Clinic, suggested the navigator
Its one of the most promising approaches, one that Lance
brought up. If the depressed person could be put into contact with
another person, a navigator, who has gone through the diagnosis and
treatment, has walked the walk, so to speak, that individual can be
of tremendous support in a different way than any doctor or nurse
can, Dr. OConnell said.
Larry Norton, MD, director of the Lauder Breast Center, Memorial
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, was asked what he says to patients
when he must give them bad news.
I very rarely give bad news, he replied. In a
sense, we identify problems and we talk immediately about what we are
going to do to tackle those problems. Being active, gathering
information in terms of attacking this disease in a positive way,
thats the most important thing. The athletes on this program
have all said the same thing. You identify a problem. You attack it.
You approach cancer like you approach any problem in life. You get in
there to win.
Concentrating on an active plan that includes information gathering,
Dr. Norton said, will help dissipate the fear. But he added a
qualification about the Internet.
There are a lot of wonderful cancer information sitesthe
NCI and some other organizations are very reputable sources. But
there are some sources that are not quite so reputable. I always tell
people, if somebody gives you information, you always have to
askhow do you know? Where is this information coming from?
The best sources of information about treatments, he said, are the
reports of the clinical trials of that treatment, not expert
opinion, but the results of carefully done experiments.
Maurie Markman, MD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer
Center, urged physicians to sit down and take the time to
address patients fears, and provide them with background
information that will help them cope.
And along with talking about treatment and side effects, you
talk to them about getting on with their life, he said. He
noted that some patients will have significant clinical depression
after a cancer diagnosis, and these patients would benefit from
antidepressants or a psychiatric consultation.
Several webcast participants brought up the fears some men have about
appearing weak or afraid, fears that prevent them from being screened
or from getting information or support. We have to get past
this feeling, Mr. Davis said. Since my diagnosis, more
and more men have approached me about my symptoms and asked what they
should dobecause they have similar symptoms. Mr. Davis
said that he hoped his example would help others.
Bruce Roth, MD, chief of solid tumor oncology, Vanderbilt University
Medical Center, agreed that men are becoming less reluctant to seek
help, and that one of the reasons is the willingness of others to
speak about their disease.
Big name people are coming out and saying they had prostate
cancer, and commenting about the side effects of therapy. If Norman
Schwarzkopf can talk on national TV about his prostate cancer, I
think its probably okay for the rest of us to talk about it, too.