Lance Armstrong: from cancer hero to drug cheat zero

When I was in my early teens, pre GCSE, my Dad was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The particular form of blood cancer he had was very aggressive and apparently there was a fairly high fatality rate in the first few years. If you made it over that, you’d generally live but it was brown trouser time up to that point.

Of course I didn’t know this at the time. Neither my brother nor I were told for about 6 or 7 years. It was a decision my parents made, partly to spare us the worry of not knowing, partly to let us concentrate on our academia but mostly, they thought, so they didn’t stuff up our childhoods. I was actually at university when I found out that my Dad was only still alive because of a coin toss- he had a 50/50 chance of making it.

This obviously upset me a lot at the time, and thinking back on it, I’m still upset by many things. By not being told, by potentially not having a Dad and by the general mortality of us all. All those trips he took to St Thomas’ to have lumps removed, waiting for the biopsy to find out if they were malignant. And by the selfish little voice whispering thank god it’s not hereditary.

My Dad got into keep fit in a big way, something a lot of cancer sufferers do. They can’t physically stop the cancer but the drive to have a healthy body in a psychological rejection of the cancer that’s infested your body is strong. He was fit, and had taken early retirement at 50 and perhaps it was the remarkable story of another cancer sufferer that spurred him on to get a road bike. Lance Armstrong had suffered testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. His chances of survival, let alone ever racing again or winning an unprecedented 7 back to back Tour de Frances were fairly slim. But Armstrong is a Texan and they’re too stubborn to realise when the odds are stacked against them. Not only did he survive, he went on to beat the record of wins held by the legendary Miguel Indurain and others. He really was a poster boy for male cancer sufferers around the world, a living beacon of hope to those who were struck down by cancer.

It wasn’t long before I couldn’t go cycling with my Dad any more. He was just too damn quick. A loop through the local woods of about 5 miles would see him lap me about half way through my second circuit. It was embarrassing but at the same time a bit cool.

Only now he isn’t that role model. Armstrong has been stripped of his 7 wins, stripped of every placing going back to ’98. He still maintains his innocence but says he is weary of the “nonsense” accusations so withdrew his challenge to the charges. History will show him as one of the most epic cheats in any sport- I can’t think of anyone who has won so much for so long and then been caught out.

I am incredibly disappointed but not just for the tarnish he’s put on one of the worlds greatest races. I’m disappointed for all the cancer sufferers like my Dad who had Lance Armstrong on a pedestal. Disappointed but at the same time glad. Glad he got away with it when my Dad needed the inspiration of someone who seemed inspirational at what was a very dark time in our family.

The one redeeming light in my eyes is Armstrong’s cancer charity, Livestrong, is still doing sterling work. It’s a start Lance. It’s a start.