Armstrong was diagnosed with late-stage metastatic testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen, his lungs and his brain. The first team of doctors he consulted with pulled his mom aside and told her she should prepare herself to lose her only child. The second team of doctors at Indiana University, who treated him with four rounds of grueling chemotherapy and surgery to remove the cancerous lesions from his brain, estimated that he had about a 40 percent chance of surviving. They later admitted they thought his chances of surviving were actually much lower.
Armstrong’s cycling team cancelled his cycling contract, leaving him both unemployed and without health insurance. Then treatment left him without a head of hair or enough muscle mass to pedal his bike up a small hill. The experience left him alive and grateful, but certainly vulnerable and more than a little lost.
In spite of these circumstances, Lance won the first of seven Tours de France just a few years later and in the wake of facing a foe far more formidable than the mountains of the Pyrenees or the High Alps of France. Still, as Armstrong often says, this is not the part of the story of which he is most proud.
Armstrong describes the flurry of opinions, doctors, options and fears as "the desperation of diagnosis." He was still recovering from treatment when he founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) - an organization born from his determination to ensure that no one go through that "desperation of diagnosis" alone.
Today the Lance Armstrong Foundation provides millions of dollars for cancer research and community-based programs for people with cancer. The Foundation matches people with cancer with clinical trials and connects them with oncology social workers through the LIVESTRONG SurvivorCare program. The Foundation established the LIVESTRONG Survivorship Center of Excellence Network and the LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance. The LAF has also supported pain and palliative care for people living with cancer and worked to make sure that underserved populations have the information and access they need to fight cancer.
Meanwhile, Armstrong is working to promote the needs of people with cancer in the halls of Congress every year and on LIVESTRONG Day in particular. In 2007, Armstrong and the LAF launched an effort to put cancer on the presidential campaign agenda, hosting the first-ever LIVESTRONG Presidential Cancer Forums in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Six presidential candidates participated in the forums to talk about cancer. Every candidate who participated, and even some who were not able to, committed to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health. Every candidate agreed that cancer screening must become more widely available. All of the candidates presented thoughtful ideas and insisted that cancer is a national threat. In 2008, Armstrong will continue to engage presidential candidates in a conversation about this shared and pervasive threat to our health and well-being.
Armstrong’s efforts at home in Texas yielded Proposition 15, a ballot initiative that authorized up to $3 billion in Texas funds for cancer research, prevention, early detection and control programs and established the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute. Determined to do something about decreasing federal money for cancer science, Armstrong aggressively campaigned for Proposition 15 and it passed.
And all of this was started by a guy who wasn’t supposed to survive.
Nonetheless, Armstrong is committed to leading the LAF as it works to provide the practical information and tools people with cancer need to live life on their own terms. Further, Armstrong will not be satisfied until the U.S. closes the gap between what is known and what is done to prevent needless suffering and death due to cancer. Armstrong believes there should be life after cancer and he hopes to change experiences and expectations of the 12 million cancer survivors in the United States.
In 1996, Armstrong had cancer on his mind. Today he still does.