the thoughts of a cancer survivor and true believer, on Lance Armstrong

It's now 2.20pm on Saturday 19 January, in Melbourne Australia, as I start typing this. I don't know how long it will take me to write and publish. I feel as though this could be long and possibly jumbled, so I will try to self edit before you're inundated

I just watched the second part of Oprah Winfrey's interview with Lance Armstrong. I'll say from the outset I thought she did a great job. It was her job to ask questions and let him answer. Her job was not to cast judgement or berate him. I was glad she refrained from doing that, even if she (rightly) seemed a little incredulous at some of his answers. It wasn't her job to query every answer he gave - the court of public opinion and the governing bodies will do that. So I thought she was good. 

I have survived cancer four times. My life with cancer began in 1990 and will continue until my death. Although not a cycling fanatic, I adore the Tour de France and Lance Armstrong's story was hugely inspirational to me, from a sporting and cancer perspective. You could say I was a 'true believer' - and remained one until the bitter end. I knew that winning the TdF seven times without doping was probably unlikely - a miracle if true. I truly believed that if he was doping, he'd have been caught. I found it very difficult to believe that, if there was indeed a cover-up going on, that it could be maintained for so long. The unbelievable turned out to be the reality. What do they say about the truth being stranger than fiction?

The thing that held my belief in Lance was my inability to comprehend how anyone who'd had chemotherapy like he'd had - like I'd had - would then put steroids or drugs of any kind in his body. For me this remains my big question. If I could meet Lance and ask him one thing, that would be it. I don't put anything stronger than over the counter pain killer into my system without careful consideration and input from my doctors (I even ring up my specialist regarding using Voltaren). That was what I held onto and the part that mystifies me, even now. That was a question Oprah didn't ask and I think you actually have to have had toxins like chemo or radiotherapy pumped into you, to truly understand just how damaging they are. To put EPO etc into your body.... I just can't understand it. I would be terrified of the effects it could have. How would it react with ones altered chemical state? Would it trigger a reaction unlike a "normal" one because of the chemotherapeutic background? Even if you're reassured that it wont - how do you really know? For me, that's just a risk not worth taking. Not even worth contemplating. Nothing - NOTHING - happens in my life anymore than could adversely affect my health. Nothing is more valuable to me, nothing worth risking it for. Especially not a bike race.

It's completely accurate to say I am personally devastated and disappointed in the lies that Lance told. Especially in my most recent battle - which we thought would be the final battle - I relied heavily on the inspiration of Armstrong's story. So how do I feel now I know the truth?

Well, I am still grateful for the inspiration. I'd be selfish to feel otherwise. I relied on Lance and his own story to help me with mine. It was part of what helped me survive, stay positive and look forward to the future. Whether he doped in a bike race is ultimately not the important part for me. Not in the context of my cancer.

Do I think he should ever compete again? Not professionally no. I don't have a problem with him running marathons as an amateur or joining his local beach volleyball team. But anything where he can win prizemoney? It's out. It has to be. 

Do I think he will ever regain his credibility? Probably not. There will be some who will never forgive and probably shouldn't. There have been people who have been hurt irrevocably. That, however, is ultimately for the people directly affected to decide for themselves. And I do believe, as I think applies to us ALL, that it is the love and respect of family and close friends that is most important. If Lance has that or is able to regain that, then that should hopefully be enough for him. Trying to win over the greater population is impossible. That's not to say he shouldn't try, but he shouldn't live and die by it either. He has to decide who and what is important to him and work towards that. The rest will take care of itself and there will be some who will never be satisfied, regardless. You can't worry about those people.

Do I think Lance is a bad person? This is where I know my thoughts might be controversial and disagreed with, vehemently. No. I don't. And here's the thing: what we've discovered and what I think is causing the most angst is that Lance Armstrong is human. He's mortal and he's flawed. Perhaps significantly so. Maybe irreversibly so. He is, in fact, no better than you or me. In some ways he's a whole lot worse. He is, like many men and women, a cheat and a liar. That actually doesn't make him unique - it's just that his lies deceived a much larger number of people that the philanderers and politicians of the world. So it seems like it's world ending stuff that Lance Armstrong did what most of the peleton was doing.

That doesn't make it right. That most of the peleton were also cheating doesn't make Lance less guilty. I could rightly point out that Lance's actions haven't killed or maimed anyone either. That doesn't justify what he did either. What it might do - in my opinion should do, though - is bring a little perspective. He hasn't gone into a primary school and murdered children with a semi-automatic rifle. He hasn't bullied anyone into taking their own life. So while his actions have been reprehensible in their context, in this world of internet overreaction and faux horror, I think a step back is important here. I certainly don't think he should go to gaol.

I also believe - strongly - that Lance Armstrong has not been acting alone and shouldn't be taking the fall for what has to be hundreds (if not thousands) of others who have participated in this sham. Is he a vital cog in this? Yes - and he is already being publicly and no doubt privately punished for it. I'm sure the worst of that is yet to come. But he's not the lone ranger here. The people who have testified against him, triggering his confession, didn't suddenly grow a conscience. They confessed because they were caught cheating also, and they were offered reduced punishment if they provided evidence against the big fish. It's fair to say that had Lance not been caught, he wouldn't have come forward. But none of them did. Which means they are all equally guilty. Other riders. Team officials. Medicos. Family members. It's likely this consipiracy runs into thousands of people who knew the truth. They all kept the secret while it suited them. 

Again - I'm not excusing Lance Armstrong. I don't think anyone could rationally excuse him. But there is so much more to this than one man. The picture is so much bigger. I fear if they equally applied the punishments, there'd be very few people left in professional cycling. That would be genuinely tragic - it's a terrific sport and the TdF is truly one of my favourite sporting events of the year - I cannot comprehend what it takes to ride that race the way those guys do. I hope cycling continues to clean up and inspire people around the world.

I think it is vital, too, that we recognise the amazing work of LIVESTRONG and not punish the thousands of people who work there and the millions of people - me included - who have been supported by that organisation. It is so much bigger than one person and it should continue to be so. It's a fantastic organisation. It would mean so much to me if you, my friends, continue to support me and support it. The greater good of LIVESTRONG outweighs anything Lance Armstrong could ever do, good or bad.

Disappointed. Hurt. Confused.

But I can't hate Lance. I just can't. I want to believe that the good person that I feel is in there, will come back to the fore. Will overcome this. Will dismiss the arrogant jerk, the Lance Armstrong persona. I have to believe that's possible. I'm patient enough to give him the opportunity. I don't hate you, Lance. Take this opportunity to start over, and be amazing. Be the man we always wanted you to be.

 

 

I'm leaving my comments on. I don't object to differing opinions but trolls and abuse will be deleted. Rational discussion welcome.