Armstrong commutes from Austin to business and charity events by private jet.
Spencer is a foot soldier in what could be called Armstrong's Army, a generation of cancer patients who are the opposite of passive victims. They are, like him, warrior-survivors. If he walked away from the fight today, that would be his legacy. But he isn't walking away. He's just getting warmed up.
These are the best of times and the worst of times in the fight against cancer. In 2003, a year after becoming director of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach stunned the medical community by setting the goal of "eliminating cancer as a cause of suffering and death by the year 2015." Praised by some for his bold optimism, the director was attacked by others who found his objective unrealistic and -- in the likely event that the goal is not met -- certain to undermine the credibility of the NCI, the government's main spigot for the approximately $5 billion a year that flows into cancer research and training.
Without the spur of a deadline, Von Eschenbach argued during an interview last February -- a month before President Bush nominated him to head the Food and Drug Administration -- big goals are "meaningless." He then held forth for half an hour on why his target is within reach. He spoke excitedly about the "molecular metamorphosis" that has taken place over the last decade and about recently developed "proteomic and genomic tools that can detect the presence of cancer long before somebody's got a big lump." He waxed optimistic about "advances in information technologies, opportunities to be able to use those tools, including the Internet, in a way that makes patients participants, rather than passive recipients, in their treatment." He asserted, "We've got the ball across midfield. If we just applied what we have in hand" -- for example, persuading Americans to undergo preventive procedures such as colonoscopies -- "we'd be getting pretty close to the red zone."
This "red zone" talk makes Hamilton Jordan red in the face. "Almost half the people alive today will have cancer in their lifetimes," thunders Jordan, a four-time cancer survivor who served as President Jimmy Carter's chief of staff. (As baby boomers age, decreases in mortality from other diseases will drive up cancer rates.) "That's a damn epidemic. And what are we doing about it? If you went back and added up all the budgets for the National Cancer Institute over the past three decades, we spent as much money on cancer as we spend in Iraq in nine months."
Von Eschenbach's gung-ho prognosis belies the kidney punch recently delivered to the very scientists on whom he must rely to meet his audacious goal. The day before Von Eschenbach gave his glowing assessment, the executive branch he serves proposed cutting the NCI's budget by $40 million, to $4.75 billion, for fiscal year 2007. The NCI is one of 27 centers and institutes run by the National Institutes of Health, whose budget was also decreased, for the first time in 36 years. In the current environment, says Doug Ulman, 28, a three-time cancer survivor who is the chief mission officer for the LAF, "people graduating from medical school fellowships and residencies are saying, 'I can't go into research. There's no money.'"