Lance Armstrong's New Challenge Could Be His Greatest

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By Janice Billingsley
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Sept. 26 (HealthDay News) -- "Myself, my bicycle and my cause."

With those words, Lance Armstrong, the greatest cyclist of his generation, announced on Wednesday that he's planning a comeback to competitive bike racing. But the cancer survivor has a greater goal than winning races -- he hopes to use the Livestrong Global Cancer Initiative he's launching to help meet the needs of cancer patients around the world.

The campaign, arising from the Lance Armstrong Foundation, will work with local partners, organizations and world leaders to achieve three major goals, according to the campaign's Web site:

  • To end the stigma of cancer and turn cancer victims into cancer survivors.
  • To build an international grassroots movement that will take cancer from isolation to collaboration.
  • To work with world leaders to transform cancer from obscurity to priority.

"We have the information, technology and medicine to save lives, and it is a moral and ethical failure not to do so," said Armstrong, who announced his plans at a press conference at the fourth annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York City.

To meet those goals, Armstrong said the campaign would focus on bike races in countries where work is needed to better the health of people with cancer, and whose governments and organizations are committed to improvements in health initiatives for cancer patients.

"My being on the bike and competing professionally increases the pressure and the likelihood that we'll make progress in those countries," he said.

Armstrong retired from competitive cycling three years ago after winning an unprecedented seventh consecutive Tour de France title. He will compete in races that will include the Tour Down Under in Australia in January and the Tour de France, set to begin July 4, 2009. After that race, Livestrong will hold a Global Cancer Summit in Paris, Armstrong said.

Armstrong successfully battled testicular cancer in the 1990s, and set a powerful example of how to live fully as a cancer survivor.

But, he emphasized that his comeback wasn't just about bike racing -- it's about winning the race against cancer throughout the world. The campaign will be an expansion of the work he has done nationally through the Lance Armstrong Foundation, launched 10 years ago in his native Texas.

"I will be as prepared as possible, but I don't know if that equals victory," said Armstrong, who just turned 37, in response to questions about his fitness after what will be nearly four years away from the sport. "I have a fair amount of confidence, but not that much confidence. My main priority is this global campaign."

He said he would work closely with Dr. Don Catlin, an expert in the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports, to design a comprehensive drug testing program so athletes can prove they are racing "clean." Allegations of performance-enhancing drug use have dogged Armstrong from time to time throughout his career. He said his blood work and test results would be posted online at www.livestrong.com.

There's been significant improvement in cancer awareness in the United States, Armstrong noted, citing legislation like the recent passage of Proposition 15 in Texas, which will invest $3 billion over 10 years in cancer research and prevention.

But serious obstacles remain for cancer patients in many parts of the world, he said.

Globally, strong stigmas still exist against the disease, so much so that people are often afraid to come forward and get the medicines and support that could save their lives, he said. Also needed is more education about the causes of cancer and how to prevent it, and more international leadership to bring attention to the disease, he said.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death throughout the world, causing more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Cancer rates are projected to increase by 15 percent annually, but a third of those new cancers could be cured by early intervention and proper medical care, according to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.