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January 12, 2013

COMMENTARY: Time for Armstrong to Come Clean

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No miles nor words were wasted on the way. Taking cancer to task was the finish line. But once those crowds gathered, we noticed that, remarkably, the spotlight shifted.

It was the simple, heartwarming stories of the other riders that really touched people. Not many people could identify with larger-than-life Lance, but many women could imagine the fear that sports management professor Mary Kreis felt when she was pregnant and diagnosed with melanoma. Darren Mullen's story of his wife's breast cancer diagnosis and eventual death from the disease rang true for hundreds in attendance. And when the Tour of Hope stopped at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the biggest signs and loudest cheers were for Richard Shaffer, who had moved there to undergo treatment for esophageal cancer. It was a homecoming for Dick, and the staff who cared for him welcomed him and rejoiced in his good health and his compelling story. Sadly, they were among the hundreds who mourned his death a year later, when Dick was remembered for both his passion for life and for finding a cure for cancer. The Tour of Hope made spokespeople and advocates out of these everyday lives touched by cancer.

Lance Armstrong always delivered for cancer survivors. In hundreds of interviews, he stayed on message: If I can beat cancer and win the races, there's no limit to what cancer survivors anywhere can do. Like many bicycling fans and cancer survivors, I believed Lance when he tirelessly maintained that he'd never failed a drug or doping test.

But here's the question for today: Why does the world need superstars, whether real or exposed later as fakes, to champion cancer or any other disease? Everyday cancer survivors are heroes enough for me. You don't have to cheat to win the race against cancer. You just need to do your best with the help of friends, caregivers and therapies based on legitimate science.

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