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(On Feb. 24 Crow will reveal that she has breast cancer and has undergone "minimally invasive" surgery. After 33 radiation treatments, according to her website, she plans to begin touring on June 12.)
Waiting for Armstrong in the greenroom is a gaggle of yellow-shirted Carrier executives, including Geraud Darnis, the company president. "I grew up in France," he tells Armstrong, hastily adding, "I am a big fan."
In the arena, after an introductory video, Armstrong strides down a ramp to the lectern, which he doesn't need, since he will speak without notes for the next 35 minutes. "I was a little surprised when I found out that a French guy runs the company," he tells the reps, whose laughter fills the room. Armstrong is off and running even before unsheathing one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against cancer: his story. He transports his audience to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where a doctor pulled aside Armstrong's mother, Linda, to tell her, "We don't think your son's going to make it."
In his book It's Not About the Bike, Armstrong recalls how, on that grim morning, the oncologist outlined a treatment protocol involving the drug bleomycin, which would so damage his lungs that he would not be able to race again.
Weeks earlier Armstrong had opened an unsolicited letter from Steven Wolff, an oncologist at Vanderbilt's medical center who happened to be a cycling buff. Armstrong recounts in his book how Wolff urged him "in strong terms to get a second opinion from Dr. Larry Einhorn at Indiana University." Einhorn, Wolff explained, was the foremost expert on testicular cancer.
Armstrong followed Wolff's advice, and in the end he bailed on M.D. Anderson, one of the world's most highly regarded cancer centers, in favor of the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. There a colleague of Einhorn's named Craig Nichols gave Armstrong "almost a coin flip of a chance," then suggested a platinum-based chemotherapy protocol that would not compromise his lungs. Armstrong also had two lesions on his brain. While a standard treatment would have been radiation, Nichols and his colleague Scott Shapiro agreed that by excising the lesions instead, they would run a much smaller risk of damaging his cycling career.
By collaborating with his doctors and questioning them, by occasionally interrupting and even overruling them and generally making a nuisance of himself, Armstrong saved his career--and possibly his life. Von Eschenbach credits him not just with giving hope to millions but also with providing a template for cancer treatment.
"A lot of people in cancer are still looking for the magic bullet," Von Eschenbach says. "Lance has demonstrated that it's not magic. It's personal commitment, bringing all the pieces together. There's no simple solution, but the impossible can be possible."
To bring those pieces together, Armstrong asks many questions. The video shown before his speech featured six-year-old footage of the cyclist on an early spring training ride up an alp called the Col de la Madeleine. It was raining and cold. U.S. Postal Service Team director Johan Bruyneel pulled alongside Armstrong in the follow car and said, "There's snow six kilometers from the top," Bruyneel said.
"Huh?" Armstrong replied.