Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Armstrong owes cancer 'heroes' the truth

  • Print

Since Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, outrage, shock and anger have proliferated. Amid that commentary, some have urged the public to look beyond Lance's denials about his systematic doping and focus instead on the hope and support he has provided for cancer patients.

I saw up close the positive effect Lance Armstrong had on the cancer community, when my health-care public relations firm Spectrum worked with him on behalf of our client Bristol-Myers Squibb between 1999 and 2005 -- the time he is now accused of doping and deceiving the public, including millions of cancer survivors who consider him a hero.

Now, however, Lance's cancer advocacy efforts sour me on the idea we need big names to gain support for causes and diseases. Perhaps it's not "heroes" like Lance to whom we should turn for inspiration. Instead, everyday cancer survivors are the ones who really earn and deserve accolades.

Spectrum conceived of and managed a program called the Tour of Hope, which featured Lance riding across the country with dozens of other skilled but amateur cyclists affected by cancer, whether survivors, researchers, caregivers or loved ones.

We organized this event as Lance claimed his final (former) Tour de France crowns, so his star was burning brightly. We knew his compelling story depended on his significant credibility and we won comprehensive media attention and attendance by thousands of cancer survivors, their families and friends to large and small events staged across the 5,000-kilometre route.

People who witnessed the Tour of Hope were star-struck by Lance's presence and he effectively used the national platform to encourage public attention to cancer clinical trials, to rally for more research funding from Congress and to promote patient compliance with cancer therapies. He also provided hope and inspiration for many cancer patients and survivors.

No miles nor words were wasted on the way. Taking cancer to task was the finish line. But once those crowds gathered, we noticed that, remarkably, the spotlight shifted.

It was the simple, heartwarming stories of the other riders that really touched people. Not many people could identify with larger-than-life Lance but many women could imagine the fear sports management professor Mary Kreis felt when she was pregnant and diagnosed with melanoma.

Darren Mullen's story of his wife's breast-cancer diagnosis and eventual death from the disease rang true for hundreds in attendance.

And when the Tour of Hope stopped at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the biggest signs and loudest cheers were for Richard Shaffer, who had moved there to undergo treatment for esophageal cancer. It was a homecoming for Dick and the staff who cared for him welcomed him and rejoiced in his good health and his compelling story. Sadly, they were among the hundreds who mourned his death a year later, when Dick was remembered for both his passion for life and for finding a cure for cancer.

The Tour of Hope made spokespeople and advocates out of these everyday lives touched by cancer.

Lance Armstrong always delivered for cancer survivors. In hundreds of interviews, he stayed on message: If he can beat cancer and win the races, there's no limit to what cancer survivors anywhere can do.

Like many cycling fans and cancer survivors, I believed Lance when he tirelessly maintained he'd never failed a drug or doping test.

But here's the question for today: Why does the world need superstars, whether real or exposed later as fakes, to champion cancer or any other disease? Everyday cancer survivors are heroes enough for me. You don't have to cheat to win the race against cancer. You just need to do your best with the help of friends, caregivers and therapies based on legitimate science.

Those cancer survivors who were inspired by Lance particularly deserve to know the whole truth. Perhaps that is what he intends to finally deliver when he speaks to Oprah Winfrey this week. The history is clear: The American people forgive if you come clean. But if Lance continues to lash out and then hide and obfuscate, he will do a disservice to millions who looked up to him. This kind of betrayal will not be soon forgotten by cancer survivors who enthusiastically put their faith in him and his story. I'm not sure he wants to perpetuate the legacy of liar.

It's time to come clean, Lance -- if not for your former sponsors and cycling fans, then for Mary Kreis, Darren Mullen, Dick Shaffer and millions more who embraced you as a symbol of hope and true conquest.

 

John J. Seng is founder and president of the public relations firm Spectrum.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2013 A11

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Humans of the Holidays

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.
  • Someone or thing is taking advantage of the inactivity at Kapyong Barracks,hundreds of Canada Geese-See Joe Bryksa’s goose a day for 30 days challenge- Day 15- May 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What's your take on the Jets so far this season?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google