October 24, 2012
(USA TODAY) -- Cyclist Lance Armstrong, who has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, once famously wrote, "It's not about the bike."
Now, in spite of mountains of evidence that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs, many supporters of his Livestrong foundation say "it's not about Lance."
Even as officials at the International Cycling Union declare that Armstrong no longer has a place in their sport, many survivors say he retains a place in their hearts, not just for raising money but for raising the profile of cancer survivors and addressing their long-neglected needs.
"Livestrong may have been started by Lance, but the foundation is bigger than its founder," says cyclist and longtime Livestrong volunteer Eric Pearson, 41, of Aurora, Colo., who says he will continue to wear the famous yellow wristbands. "Livestrong is not Armstrong."
The 15-year-old foundation has helped 2.5 million people over the years and raised nearly $500 million. Many cancer survivors predict the foundation will continue well without Armstrong, who stepped down last week as chairman but says he will remain involved.
Donations have doubled since Aug. 23, when Armstrong announced that he no longer would contest doping charges, Livestrong spokeswoman Katherine McLane said Tuesday.Total fundraising for the year is up 13% from last year, to nearly $21 million. Only three donors have asked for their money back because of the doping charges, she said.
Brian Rose, who was uninsured when he was diagnosed with advanced melanoma three years ago, says he owes his health to Livestrong. "It's overwhelming trying to do it all on your own," says Rose, 34, who notes that Livestrong's cancer navigation program helped him get health insurance. "Having a resource like that is priceless."
Lymphoma survivor Jen Singer, 45, credits Armstrong with championing cancer "survivorship," or the needs of patients after finishing treatment. Armstrong, who has served on the President's Cancer Panel, has drawn attention to patients' life-long needs, from employment to the "late effects" of toxic cancer therapies, which can cause heart failure, infertility and even second cancers.
Rose and other survivors praise the leadership of Doug Ulman, Livestrong's president and CEO. Ulman, a three-time cancer survivor, founded his own charity, the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, in 1997, before joining Livestrong.
Rose says he's a living example of what Livestrong does every day. Livestrong helped arrange free flights for Rose to a Houston hospital from Wichita, where he works half the year as a minor-league baseball coach. Livestrong helped Rose with fertility counseling and sperm banking so he and his wife can try to have kids one day. And Livestrong intervened when Rose's insurance company refused to allow him to join a clinical trial. The company reversed its decision.
"It's literally giving a guy like me a chance to walk away from this disease," says Rose, who also appeared in a video for Livestrong. "I just know that when I need it, the foundation will be there."
Requests for help from the foundation's navigation service actually have increased with the latest news about Armstrong, says Livestrong social worker Athan Schindler.
Some cancer survivors say they are saddened by Armstrong's fall from grace. Singer says she doesn't know how to explain the doping charges to her children.
Others, such as Rebecca Esparza, are less concerned. "It doesn't matter to me if he's guilty or not. He's done more to change 'the face of cancer' than anyone else, ever," says Esparza, of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Breast cancer survivor Lani Horn, 41, says, "Many great heroes are flawed." Though "we may all come to believe that Lance's competitive edge and desire to do the improbable went awry it was exactly those qualities that helped him think so big and bold with Livestrong."
Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.