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Bolten is gracious as he explains how Hurricane Katrina eliminated any "flexibility" the Administration might have had in its budget. He repeatedly compliments Armstrong on the initiative the LAF sent to the White House. Bolten suggests a "dialogue" between the Administration and the LAF. After all, it won't be long before preparations for the '08 budget begin. (Ulman and Armstrong will travel to D.C. to meet with Bolten on March 28, the same day the White House announces that Bolten will become the President's new chief of staff. Bolten still makes the meeting.)
When Bolten tells Armstrong that he admires "what you do and how you do it," the Texan thanks, then browbeats him: "This should be a priority for everybody. The problem is too big, and it's only going to get bigger. I know there's Iraq and Afghanistan and Katrina, but this is more important."
In a smaller, more spartan office down the hall, Dave Lyon is going about his new job as the LAF's marketing director. He is in his third month with the foundation. Before that he'd spent 14 years as president of Texas-based TM Advertising. "You can only sell so many cars, so many bags of chips," he says. His face, ascetic in appearance--the face of a monk or a marathoner--lights up when he smiles. "Lance is not about incremental progress," Lyon says. "He wants to do something disruptive in this fight. Meaning, very big." Lyon wouldn't have left his plush advertising gig to work for someone who wasn't ready to break some crockery. On March 27, 2005, Easter Sunday, his daughter Meredith died of a cancer called neurofibrosarcoma. She fought the disease for nearly a year. Meredith Lyon had just turned 15.
Before dying, she endured seven surgeries, two of which lasted 12 hours, at M.D. Anderson. Lyon remembers hunkering down in the waiting room before one of those ordeals. "We were just another family sitting in the corner, trying to brace ourselves," he recalls. "All of a sudden, the top officers from the hospital started showing up, asking us if there was anything they could do."
Lyon had met Armstrong briefly while working on a Subaru ad. "We weren't very close," Lyon says, "but he reached out as if we were family." Armstrong--who, despite having rejected M.D. Anderson's treatment plan in 1996, has a good relationship with the hospital--had "called the very top [people at] the hospital to make sure we had what we needed," Lyon says.
"When you go through an experience like that, you learn an enormous amount," Lyon continues. "So when the lights go out, you realize: I have knowledge I can apply. Where do I put all this fight I still have in me?"
He is putting it into his new job, which consists of locating, then activating the legions of like-minded people wearing yellow wristbands. "Sixty million people have raised their hands in solidarity with Lance," Lyon says. "These people want to be told what they can do. They want to make a difference." Ex-ad guy that he is, Lyon has distilled their yearning into a pithy phrase. "What they're looking for," he says, "is the Next Right Thing."
Up the hall Armstrong is pondering how to respond to the Bolten teleconference. Does he call out the Bush Administration or hope that a year from now, when it's time to announce the '08 budget, the President does right by his fellow Texan?
Hamilton Jordan, for one, believes it's time for the army to affix bayonets. Jordan, who sits on the LAF's board, says, "You ask the American people, What's your greatest fear? It's not terrorism. It's not crime. It's cancer. And it's a rational fear. I'm not saying don't talk with Josh Bolten. But they oughta be getting the damn army geared up too."
Back on the freeway, behind the wheel of that sleek and sinister-looking Beemer, the head of that army is sounding bellicose. The $146 million raised by his foundation is all well and good, he allows. "But to find a cure, you're into government money." To affect policy, he says, "you've got to vote as a bloc. If we have an army of five million speaking with one voice--that's real power. We should make the NRA look like the Tiddledywinks Association of America."