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January 12, 2013

COMMENTARY: Time for Armstrong to Come Clean

Since Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, outrage, shock and anger have proliferated. Amid that commentary, some have urged the public to look beyond Lance's denials about his systematic doping and focus instead on the hope and support he has provided for cancer patients.

I saw up close the positive effect that Lance Armstrong had on the cancer community, when my health-care public relations firm Spectrum worked with him on behalf of our client Bristol-Myers Squibb between 1999 and 2005 — the time he is now accused of doping and deceiving the public, including millions of cancer survivors who consider him a hero.

Now, however, Lance's cancer advocacy efforts sour me on the idea that we need big names to gain support for causes and diseases. Perhaps it's not "heroes" like Lance to whom we should turn for inspiration. Instead, everyday cancer survivors are the ones who really earn and deserve accolades.

Spectrum conceived of and managed a program called the Tour of Hope, which featured Lance riding across the country with dozens of other skilled but amateur cyclists affected by cancer, whether survivors, researchers, caregivers or loved ones. We organized this event as Lance claimed his final (former) Tour de France crowns, so his star was burning brightly. We knew that his compelling story depended on his significant credibility, and we won comprehensive media attention and attendance by thousands of cancer survivors, their families and friends to large and small events staged across the 3,200-mile route.

People who witnessed the Tour of Hope were star-struck by Lance's presence, and he effectively used the national platform to encourage public attention to cancer clinical trials, to rally for more research funding from Congress and to promote patient compliance with cancer therapies. He also provided hope and inspiration for many cancer patients and survivors.

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