For Cancer Survivors, Armstrong An Inspiration

Oct 19, 2012
Originally published on October 19, 2012 7:12 pm



Tonight in Austin, Livestrong, the cancer organization founded by Lance Armstrong, is holding its 15th anniversary gala and Armstrong is scheduled to speak at the event. But it's been a bad stretch for the champion cyclist. In the face of a scathing report linking him to doping, he stepped down as chairman of Livestrong and he lost major sponsors, including Nike.

We're going to hear from to cancer survivors now who've long viewed Lance Armstrong as an inspiration for beating his own cancer. First, Dan McAlpine(ph) of Ipswich, Massachusetts.

DAN MCALPINE: Twenty-five years ago, I sat in a urologist's examination room hitching up my pants. The doctor was already in his office on the phone to the hospital. This has to be done right away, I heard him say through the door he left halfway open. Two days later, my oldest daughter spent her time at daycare cutting open the belly of her teddy bear, making him all better. It would take a lot longer but the real doctors eventually made me all better.

After his first tour win, a long lanky cyclist from Texas would give a face to the disease I'd never heard of until I had it - testicular cancer. And when he did, I beamed inside. I felt suddenly whole again, as if I hadn't lost my left testicle. Or if I did, it didn't matter because of Lance Armstrong could go out and win the world's most prestigious bicycle race, well, how much more proof did anyone need to know you could lose a testicle and still be a whole man?

I got up early or stayed up late to watch Lance pump his way to a record seven Tour de France wins. And through it all, I believed Lance did it clean. Despite the rumors, I stuck with Lance, mostly because I couldn't believe anyone who has survived cancer - a father, no less - would risk triggering some stray cancer cell by using performance-enhancing drugs. Now the evidence shows Lance was the worst of hypocrites. He preyed on people's need to believe, people like me.

Lance was more than a cycling champion. Far more important, he was a cancer champion. Now he's just a disgrace.

But even Lance's sins can't destroy his message of facing and fighting cancer. Now it's up to the rest of us to carry on that message and be our own cancer champions.

BLOCK: That's Dan McAlpine, a cancer survivor from Ipswich, Massachusetts.

Our second commentary comes from Suleika Jaouad of New York City. She's 24 and has leukemia. And she's sticking by Lance Armstrong.

SULEIKA JAOUAD: I don't have sports heroes. I grew up painting and dancing and playing the piano. So when I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago at age 22, I didn't know much about Lance Armstrong. Immediately following my diagnosis, my doctors said the intense chemotherapy would most likely leave me infertile. This is in some ways more upsetting than the news that I had cancer. My doctors assured me that I had a shot at being cured. The infertility would be permanent.

I wanted so badly to have a family one day. But saving my eggs came with a steep price tag that wasn't covered by my insurance. The doctors told me to look to Fertile Hope. It's a program from Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation that helps people like me. Within 48 hours, Livestrong had agreed to pay for most of the $25,000 it would cost to freeze my eggs. After that support, I had to learn more about the man behind the foundation.

This past April, just before my bone marrow transplant, I began to read Lance Armstrong's autobiography, "Every Second Counts." In those long and lonely weeks, isolated in the bone marrow transplant unit, I faced the possibility that I might die. And Lance was there with me. In May, he even tweeted me directly, writing: Get well soon, girl. I, too, wanted to live. I wanted to fight like hell and to think of myself not just as a cancer patient but as a survivor, like Lance.

I'm still not a cycling enthusiast, nor am I an expert on the doping allegations against him. I know they're serious but I'm still fighting for my life. And I know that Lance is fighting right alongside me.

BLOCK: That's Suleika Jaouad. You can follow her progress on The New York Times blog Life Interrupted. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.