Lance Armstrong Cheated, But He's Still a Hero

Lance Armstrong cheated.

Last night, he finally admitted it to Oprah: He "doped" to win seven Tour de France titles and got caught in a web of lies that society won't likely soon forget.

But before those victories ever happened, Armstrong was a relatively unknown 20-something-year-old battling stage three testicular cancer.

"I intend to beat this disease," he told the New York Times in 1996. "I'm 25 years old. I'm one of the best in my sport--why would I have cancer? ... This is something I got stuck with and now have to work through."

A year later, a cancer-free Armstrong established the Livestrong Foundation, an Austin-based non-profit committee that has since raised nearly $500 million to support those affected by cancer.

But what if Armstrong hadn't used performance-enhancing drugs during his professional career? Would the Livestrong Foundation have had the same impact on the cancer community?

No. And it's impossible to ignore the fact that Lance Armstrong's celebrity status directly affected his foundation's fundraising abilities.

Had he just been another American cyclist in the saddle, like Andrew Bajadali, Chris Butler, or any of the other pro cyclists you've never heard of, inspiring individuals like 24-year-old New York Times' "Life, Interrupted" columnist and "cancer thriver" Suleika Jaouad may have had dramatically reduced treatment options.

At 22, Jaouad was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. While treatable, doctors informed the young woman that chemotherapy would likely make her infertile.

"Saving my eggs came with a steep price tag that wasn't covered by my insurance," she told NPR last year. "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."

A few weeks before a bone marrow transplant, Jaouad started reading Every Second Counts, Armstrong's autobiography.

"In those long and lonely weeks isolated in the bone marrow transplant unit, I faced the possibility that I might die," she told NPR. "And Lance was there with me... In May, he even tweeted me directly writing, 'get well soon, girl.'"

He was an inspiration, she says.

"Reading about how Lance not only survived stage IV cancer but embarked on a quest to spare others the suffering he endured, set a fire under me. I too wanted to live. To -- like Lance -- fight like hell and think of myself not just as a cancer patient but as a survivor -- a cancer thriver."

Jaouad's story is one of several.

The Livestrong Foundation, with the help of its former chairman (Armstrong resigned as chairman in October 2012 and from the board of directors a month later following the doping revelations), has touched the lives--directly and indirectly--of countless cancer patients, survivors, and supporters through its commitment to the cause.

This is the same man we're dragging through the mud for cheating at a sport--one he loves, yet ultimately disrespected. Isn't that far worse than injecting any performance-enhancing drug into your body?

Lance Amstrong, the cancer activist, is bigger than Lance Armstrong, the cyclist. He's bigger than the Tour de France. He's bigger than the scandal that cost him his seven victories and, ultimately, the career he lost.

Lance Armstrong, performance-enhanced blood notwithstanding, is still a hero. A competitive hero who made plenty of bad decisions, sure, but a hero all the same.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Victor Gonzalez
Contact: Victor Gonzalez