On August 24 Lance Armstrong decided to give up his fight against the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which had accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs during his years of cycling competition, a charge that Armstrong continues to deny. In response to Armstrong's capitulation, USADA stripped him of seven Tour de France titles and annulled his record back to August 1998. In addition USADA banned him from competitive cycling. USADA has sent its dossier to the International Cycling Union (UCI), which will make its own judgment perhaps reaffirming the USADA's decision to strip Armstrong of his titles and ban him from future competitive cycling. To say the least, these accusations and reprisals have tarnished Lance Armstrong's public image.
How will these developments alter Lance Armstrong's public impact?
Consider my indirect relationship to Lance Armstrong. I've never met him, but my brother served as President and CEO of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. During his tenure my brother oversaw the LIVESTRONG-wristband campaign, which, using the celebrity of Lance Armstrong and the potent symbolism Tour de France 'yellow," raised millions of dollars for the Foundation, the central purpose of which is to give aid and encouragement to millions of people who suffer--directly and indirectly--from the ravages of cancer. My brother's association with Lance Armstrong and the Lance Armstrong Foundation made me very proud.
Like more than 10 million cancer patients, I am also connected to Lance Armstrong through our mutual experience of the dreaded disease. I began treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2001, six months or so after Armstrong had won his second Tour de France. Could I be like him and make myself strong enough to confront cancer? I didn't know, but reading his book, It's Not About the Bike, and watching clips of his great achievements encouraged me during some of the low points of my cancer treatment program--months of five-hour chemotherapy and immunotherapy sessions as well as bouts of fatigue, bone and joint pain, numbness in the extremities and other debilitating side effects. If someone could come back from cancer and win the Tour de France, I told myself, then I could certainly try to get through the physical and emotional challenges of cancer treatment and steel my resolve to restore a life that the cancer had turned upside down. During dreadful moments of the utter loneliness that cancer patients often experience, I sometimes envisioned Lance Armstrong streaking up a steep hill or crossing the finish line in Paris. Looking back, I can say unequivocally that for me no doping allegation will ever wash way the memory of Armstrong's triumphs. They provided me deep comfort during treatment and profound encouragement during remission..
I don't know if Lance Armstrong took performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career. I do know that his tireless work for people like me, who must live everyday in the shadow of cancer, has raised millions of dollars for cancer research and cancer outreach. On a more existential level, his tireless efforts have made life sweeter for a large and ever-increasing community of people touched in some way by cancer.
When I next ride my bike along a trail that runs along the beautiful Brandywine River in Wilmington, Delaware, I will be thinking about Lance Armstrong--with deep gratitude,
I will never take off my LIVESTRONG wristband.
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