Five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong insists he’s not a hero.
“A hero is a person who’s perfect — and I’m far from perfect,” Armstrong says. “Cancer is a bastard. If it wants to take the biggest, strongest, fittest guy, it will. Athletes aren’t in the spotlight forever; I have a small window. Now is my time to tell my story and make a difference in the world.”
As they embarked on an unprecedented 3,200-mile journey across America, Armstrong and the Tour of Hope team stressed one simple message: “Cancer research is our only hope for a cure.”
Armstrong urged a crowd of more than 1,300 people who packed into the World’s Fair Pavilion in Forest Park Oct. 15 to sign the Tour of Hope’s Cancer Promise, a personal commitment to learn about cancer and the vital importance of cancer research.
When Armstrong was 25, cancer nearly killed him. Testicular cancer spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain, requiring two surgeries and four cycles of chemotherapy to rid his body of the disease.
Armstrong’s stunning recovery culminated in his winning the 1999 Tour de France. Since then, he’s won the grueling three-week race four more times, tying the record.
But in the wake of all the fame and fanfare of being one of the world’s most admired athletes, Armstrong insists he’s still a regular hardworking, T-shirt-and-jeans-wearing guy from Texas.
He tells cancer patients to “be brave and fight like hell. You can be the strongest fighter in the world, but if you don’t go out and fight, it doesn’t matter.”
Timothy J. Eberlein, M.D., director of the Siteman Cancer Center, also stressed to the crowd the importance of clinical trials, especially at this time in cancer care.
“We’re seeing an explosion of basic science discoveries that are opening up opportunities to have earlier diagnosis, less toxic and more effective treatments and improved prevention strategies,” Eberlein says.
“It’s admirable that Lance is embarking on this critical campaign, and we are honored he has chosen to include the Siteman Cancer Center. Hopefully, this event will encourage more people to participate in cancer research.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, up to 90 percent of children with cancer enroll in clinical trials, but fewer than 5 percent of adults participate.
Currently, the Siteman Cancer Center offers more than 350 clinical trials, which involve more than 2,000 patients each year. The center also has more than $100 million in annual cancer-related research funding.
Tour of Hope cyclist Eric Miller knows that participating in a clinical trial can mean the difference between life and death. Miller’s son, Garrett, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor when he was 5.
“I was watching him play T-ball one day and the next day he was having brain surgery,” Miller says.
Garrett participated in a clinical trial and is now a cancer survivor, but the disease left him blind.
“My son is alive today because of the doctors and cancer survivors before him,” Miller says.
Although, Armstrong did not participate in a cancer trial, he says the Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope ride is a tribute to the heroes before him who participated in cancer research.
“Winning the Tour de France, makes Lance a champion,” Eberlein says. “But what he does for cancer survivors makes him a hero.”
Timothy J. Eberlein, M.D., director of the Siteman Cancer Center, introduces Lance Armstrong at the World’s Fair Pavilion.
Tour of Hope team members (from left) Eric Miller, Beth Strauss and Patrick Reilly visit with 12-year-old patient Christian Richardson at the Hale Irwin Center for Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.