Winning the Race Against Cancer
Ask famed bike racer Lance Armstrong to describe the moment he learned he had potentially fatal cancer, and he won't miss a beat.
"Having cancer is like being run off the road by a truck," says the seven-time winner of the world's most grueling bicycle race, the 2,300-mile Tour de France. "When I was diagnosed with [advanced] testicular cancer [in 1996], I suddenly realized that this wasn't a bicycle race I was trying to win. All at once, I was caught up in the fight of my life.
"The truth is that I was very frightened, especially at first. I was afraid to see my doctor and afraid of treatment. But I survived the disease - because I became determined to learn everything I could about it.
"I was also fortunate to find a terrific team of doctors who could help me, along with several new cancer medications. I think I'm really lucky, because I ignored my symptoms until it was almost too late."
After a two-year struggle with cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain, Mr. Armstrong returned to international racing -with a vengeance. He nailed down a first-place finish seven times in the exhausting, 21-day Tour de France.
Along the way, Mr. Armstrong has savored two other heart-warming triumphs: the birth of his son, Luke David, in October 1999, and the launch of his national cancer education campaign for people with, or at risk for, all types of cancer.
How did Mr. Armstrong make good on his estimated 50 percent survival odds?
"Education was the key," he says. "As soon as I saw what I was up against, I began to study the disease and learn everything I could about treatment. I didn't leave it all to my doctors. I became extremely interested - you might even say obsessed - with understanding how the illness affected my body."
According to Lawrence H. Einhorn, M.D., one of the oncologists who treated him, Mr. Armstrong's "will to survive" the disease was astonishing. "I think his message is a very hopeful one," says Dr. Einhorn. "He's proof that you can not only survive cancer, but that you can actually resume a normal livelihood...and in Lance's case, a supernormal livelihood."
Dr. Einhorn wasn't exaggerating.
In late summer 2000, Mr. Armstrong broke a neck vertebra in a roadway collision with a car. How did he respond? Simple. Just 30 days later, he went on to win the bronze medal in the Men's Individual Time Trial at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. And in typical Lance Armstrong fashion, he refused to offer the neck injury as an excuse when reporters asked him why he'd finished third instead of first.
"I just didn't go as fast as the other two," quipped the Iron Man of Cycling. "They are both great bike riders. I'm not going to cry about it!"