ATLANTA"I am a cancer survivor," Lance Armstrong said at a plenary session of the 2006 American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting when he accepted the Society's Special Recognition Award. "Seven-time Tour de France winner will be the fine print on the tombstone," he said.
After his successful treatment for advanced testicular cancer at Indiana University Medical Center, Indianapolis, one of his physicians, Dr. Craig Nichols, who is now chair of hematology-oncology at Oregon Health and Sciences University, "asked me if I wanted to hear about the 'obligation of the cured,'" he said. "I answered yes, since I liked the word cured, but he told me it wasn't about being cured, since he couldn't promise me that. It was about how much you want to share your story."
At that time, Mr. Armstrong thought this meant simply talking to his neighbors or a local school about his cancer experience. Neither Mr. Armstrong nor his physicians could foresee his future fame that would allow him to spread his message all over the world.
After his diagnosis at age 25, Mr. Armstrong was not sure whether he would ever race again, but the decision to switch from BEP chemotherapy, with the possibility of lung damage, to VIP allowed him to "get back on the bike, to pedal again and to pedal fast and win races." His Tour de France victories ultimately gave him "a nice platform," he said, for sharing his story, and the opportunity to start the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which has awarded $14 million in research grants for testicular cancer and cancer survivorship.
He told the ASCO audience that his cancer experience has been "an incredible journey that gave me a powerful thing called perspective." He believes his cycling victories pale compared with anything he might achieve in the fight against cancer. Now, as a retired athlete, he said, "I have a commitment and a cause that needs attention." Mr. Armstrong clearly believes that cancer research is not getting enough attention from the federal government. "The fact that for the first time in a long time the budget of the NCI has shrunk is just not acceptable to me," he said.
He called for a nationwide movement to make cancer a central issue in politics. He pointed at that in the presidential debates in 2004, "you had a cancer survivor in Sen. John Kerry and a president who lost a sister to cancer at a very young age, and with the whole world watching, why was cancer never discussed?"