Winning the Race

Lance Armstrong had every reason to be happy on his 25th birthday: a champion cyclist with the promise of a great future, sports contracts for substantial amounts of money, then you house… But then, less than a month before his birthday, his life would turn upside down.

October 2, 1996 was he day he received his diagnosis of testicular cancer; Yes, there were signs, but you learn to live with pain when you are a professional cyclist and you spend many hours per day sitting on a bicycle seat, especially in that part of the body. But spitting blood? A testicle three times its normal size? Probably just a virus...

But it was far worse than that. They found a tumor on his testicle, twelve in his lungs, multiple tumors in his abdomen and two in his brain. At such an advanced stage, his chance of survival, even with recent discoveries, were quite slim; around 15 to 20%. One hell of a slap in the face for a man in his prime, and with such great aspirations; you don't expect to die at 25.

The next day, they removed the tumor on his testicle. Then 12 long weeks of chemotherapy. The first three weeks he is given bleomycin, etoposide and cisplatin, the standard treatment; however, bleomycin can be toxic for the lungs and might affect his future performances as a cyclist, if he even manages to beat the cancer...

His medical team give him a new combination without bleomycin for the last three cycles in order to avoid lung damage. Bald, pale, emaciated, his otherwise muscled legs atrophied, vomiting for hours on end, Lance endured the poison and antidotes coursing through his veins. In the meantime, the tumors in his brain are removed and contain nothing but dead tissue, with no trace of cancer! In February 1997 he is officially declared in remission.

This is when he decides he wants to compete again, but chemotherapy won't make it that easy: after 20 minutes of light cycling Lance collapses on a stranger's lawn, exhausted and embarrassed. Pushing his limits, he returns to competition 16 months later, scars on his head, his arms, his legs and his chest...

Lance Armstrong founded the Lance Armstrong foundation, also known as live strong, whose goal is to amass funds for cancer research and to help support those who, like him, are battling their demons.

What follows may seem like both dream and nightmare: from 1999 to 2005 he would go on to win seven consecutive Tour de France races, but allegations of doping – which he would eventually admit to – will eventually deprive him of those victories.

You can say what you want, but it was without any kind of doping that Lance Armstrong beat his cancer and defied prognosis. He inspired countless people to push their limits and win the race; and no one can take that away from him.

Jean-Philippe BoucherComment