Lance Armstrong's Cancer Inspired Foundation's Work
To win the Tour de France seven years in a row, Lance Armstrong beat exhausting 2,300-mile courses, dozens of competitors—and cancer. His victory over that feared disease makes him a cancer survivor first and a cyclist second, he says.
"I feel like I have the obligation to tell my story," says Armstrong, whose experience inspired the Lance Armstrong Foundation and a new job as an advocate for those affected by cancer. The Lance Armstrong Foundation is involved with advocacy, education, and promotion of cancer research.
An information packet, available via phone or Web, offers information and advice on risks, symptoms, and treatment.
"It'd be great to affect 10 million people," Armstrong says, "but if one person gets saved, then it's all worth it."
Armstrong's bout with cancer began in 1996, when he disregarded swelling in his groin for five months.
"I ignored it partly because I was riding well, so I thought if I did have an illness like this my results would have suffered," he says. "As an athlete, and kind of a stubborn one at that, I didn't want to know I had a problem."
Finally, he could ignore it no longer: He started to get headaches and cough up blood. On Oct. 2, 1996, he learned he had testicular cancer.
"To be told that it was indeed cancer and it was indeed in its advanced stages was really earth-shattering for me," he recalls. He first worried that he might lose his career—but then, he says, "it dawned on me that I could lose my life."
Armstrong and those around him were "totally clueless" about cancer, he says. But he began extensive research that led him to Craig Nichols, M.D., and Lawrence H. Einhorn, M.D., then both Indianapolis oncologists. Dr. Nichols is now an oncologist in Portland, Ore.
"His medical story was very daunting," Dr. Nichols recalls. Cancer had spread to his lungs and brain, and Dr. Nichols gave him a 40 percent chance of survival. "On the emotional side, I saw what was formerly a brash young man who was, perhaps for the first time, afraid."
Armstrong underwent surgery and chose drug treatments that wouldn't damage his heart or lungs. He asked his doctors a lot of questions. "I was sort of a pest for them," he says. "I wanted the numbers and I wanted the proof."
Armstrong created the Lance Armstrong Foundation after his diagnosis—before he knew whether he'd survive—to save others from the uncertainty he'd suffered. "Once we started to learn more, we felt more and more confident," he recalls.
Armstrong urges cancer patients to learn their options. "I firmly believe that I was cured because I was obsessed with knowing what was going on inside my body," he says.
Armstrong says he came back as a lighter, more efficient, more relaxed rider.
Early detection saves lives
Armstrong nearly lost his life by ignoring a message he now delivers: Catching cancer early is vital.
"Certainly the earlier a cancer is detected, the higher the probability of a successful outcome," says Dr. Einhorn. "Despite the very far advanced nature of his disease, he went through chemotherapy and was cured of his disease. But he was lucky.
"Mammograms are of value, and they do save lives," Dr. Einhorn says. "If you can pick up a very small tumor which you can't feel with your fingertips but can see with a mammogram, you have a much, much higher probability that you can cure the patient."
Colonoscopy saves lives by detecting polyps years before they grow into colorectal cancer.
Hop on this cycle
Key advice from the Lance Armstrong Foundation:
Know your risks, such as age, race, smoking, family history, and your prior health history.
Get screenings at the age and frequency recommended by your doctor.
Learn the symptoms of cancer, because awareness aids early detection.
Conduct self-examinations to help detect certain cancers early.
Learn all your treatment options, including pros and cons.
Make medical treatment a team effort.
Pursue state-of-the-art treatment.