We all love to look up to athletes, they inspire us, motivate and make us believe that with hard work, we can reach beyond our own expectations. Perhaps, we won’t achieve their enormous physical success, but they teach us to dream and try harder.
Globally, few have been more inspiring then Lance Armstrong. We cheered him on as a 15 year old triathlete, when he proved his amateur ranking to be better then the top five professional ranked triathletes. At 16, he became a professional triathlete and in his first year won the national sprint course champion title. His decision to leave the sport of triathlon was financial; he felt he needed to earn what his victories deserved. He was arrogant to a fault, but his talent was so awesome, it was hard not to be sucked in by it.
For me, Lance’s star power emerged after his emotional announcement that he had stage 3 testicular cancer, and it had already spread into vital organs. The cancer appeared to be so aggressive that, in my mind, any hope was all but gone. But he was unwavering in his belief in himself and he faced it like any other competition, he made calculated moves and educating himself on options. Here is what is written in wiki about his cancer treatment:
“On October 2, 1996, then aged 25, Armstrong was diagnosed as having developed stage three testicular cancer (Embryonal carcinoma).The cancer spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. On that first visit to a urologist in Austin, Texas, for his cancer symptoms he was coughing up blood and had a large, painful testicular tumor. Immediate surgery and chemotherapy were required to save his life. Armstrong had an orchiectomy to remove his diseased testicle. After his surgery, his doctor stated that he had less than a 40% survival chance.
The standard chemotherapeutic regimen for the treatment of this type of cancer is a cocktail of the drugs bleomycin, etoposide, and cisplatin(or Platinol) (BEP). Armstrong, however, chose an alternative, etoposide, ifosfamide, and cisplatin (VIP), to avoid the lung toxicity associated with the drug bleomycin. This decision may have saved his cycling career. His primary treatment was received at the Indiana University(IU), Indianapolis, Medical Center, where Lawrence Einhorn had pioneered the use of cisplatinum to treat testicular cancer. His primary oncologist there was Craig Nichols. His brain tumors were surgically removed by Scott A. Shapiro, MD, Professor of Neurosurgery at Indiana University and Resident Director, and were found to contain extensive necrosis. According to Armstrong’s first book, Shapiro convinced him that he was the right neurosurgeon for him by saying: “You’ll have to convince me you know what you’re doing,” said Armstrong. “Look, I’ve done a large number of these,” Shapiro said, “I’ve never had anyone die, and I’ve never made anyone worse.” “Yeah, but why should you be the person who operates on my head?” Armstrong responded. “Because as good as you are at cycling”-he paused-”I’m a lot better at brain surgery”. His last chemotherapy treatment was received on December 13, 1996.
His cancer went into complete remission, and by January 1998 he was already engaged in serious training for racing, moving to Europe to race for the U.S. Postal team. A pivotal week (April 1998) in his comeback was one he spent training in the very challenging Appalachian terrain around Boone, North Carolina, with his racing friend Bob Roll.“
Two years later, he wanted to return to professional cycling, but he had trouble finding a home. Cyclists and sponsors doubted he would have the physical strength that he had before cancer. His first Tour de France victory, in 1999, gave everyone a lump in their throat and he claimed an enormous emotional and financial victory, against the odds.
Cancer followed by a Tour de France win, how did he do it? What we, ordinary people, failed to understand was the amazing physiology of the elite athlete’s body. In Lance’s case, the cells of his body are highly efficient in clearing the debris that is accumulated from his training. He has the lowest lactate levels ever recorded, which means he processes his training so well that he recovers faster than everyone else. Dr. Edward Coyle, an exercise physiologist who studied Armstrong’s body said, “Fewer than 20 people on earth have that capacity.”
I surmise that when Armstrong went through cancer treatment, his body was highly efficient and could consume, utilize and excrete the cancer treatment better than most of us. As an athlete, he understood the process for what he would go through and he was an active participant in deciding his treatment plan that helped to bolster his successful outcome.
If any of us can learn one thing from Lance Armstrong, it is that the health of our cellular body is a primary factor in staying well and surviving health changes that we can’t anticipate. The healthier we are going into a health change, the better the chance we will succeed.
A final word on the recent announcement, not all of Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France wins are in question. The years 2009-2011 are what are in question. The USADA would like to strip away all of the titles as punishment. Whatever that decision may be, I believe that he should remain an inspiration for his tenacity to succeed in life and inspire so many who need to feel hope!