will drive the pace car, a 505-hp Corvette Z06, at the Indianapolis 500 on May
28. Tip for Indy officials: Feed him before he gets behind the wheel.
Earlier this year Armstrong was piloting his black BMW M5 at roughly twice the
speed limit down a rural highway while devouring a teriyaki beef wrap from the
takeout window at Roscoe's, the culinary acme of Dripping Springs, Texas. The
business of eating the wrap while dipping chips into a small container of salsa
forced him to take both hands off the wheel periodically and steer with his
left knee. When his passenger offered to take the wheel, the Texan fixed him
with the Look.
"You do the interview," he directed. "I'll drive the car and eat my
You remember the Look: the glare that bored holes in the psyches of Armstrong's
opponents while he won seven straight Tours de France, beginning in 1999. The
Look made seasoned professionals quail, robbed them of hope, bade them ask
themselves, Why do I even bother?
Armstrong may have walked away from competitive cycling last July, but the
power of his glower is undiminished. Ten months after his final descent from
the top step of the podium on the Champs-Elys�es, he is focusing his gaze, his
attention, his displeasure--the Look--on an old foe, the one that came close to
killing him a decade ago.
his wrap and arrived at his destination, Armstrong sat at the dining-room table
at his home outside Austin, sifting through a pile of correspondence. He
stopped at a card that said, From Our House to Yours: the Kunz family. It
included a snapshot of a good-looking couple and their two young children. The
woman had been dead for six months. She succumbed to cervical chordoma, a rare
form of cancer that, Armstrong believes, has a 100% mortality rate. "I
mean, what kind of odds are those?" There is the Look again as he answers
his own question: "Unacceptable."
SPENCER SARTIN was
diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in October 2004. Suddenly, everyone
he met wanted to stick a needle in him. There were needles to take his blood, a
needle to knock him out so he wouldn't feel the even bigger needle that doctors
would use to draw bone marrow from his hip. Spencer is now six years old, in
remission and on the cover of this magazine. (He's the one in the yellow
jersey.) But he will remain in treatment for another 20 months, and he needs so
many shots--for chemo, for spinal taps, for the flu--that he has forbidden his
parents to use the word around the house. When Spencer needs an injection, his
father, Rob, lets him know by using American Sign Language. "You point your
right index finger at your left biceps," says Rob, "and push
Before his son
fell ill, Rob had raised more than $5,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
In fact, Spencer first exhibited the symptoms of his illness--the stubborn
fever that finally persuaded his pediatrician to order blood work--while his
parents were at a dinner for Ride for the Roses, a cycling event that raises
funds for the LAF. Little wonder, then, that the boy has gone on the offensive
against his affliction. It's as if, in addition to the chemo, he has
Armstrong's attitude pumped into his veins. Spencer signed up for martial arts
despite being, on some days, too weak to walk from his bedroom to the kitchen.
And last October he and his father completed the 40-miler at the Ride for the
Roses. Spencer pedaled a Trail-a-Bike attached to Rob's hybrid. "He worked
his butt off," his father says. He also raised $32,500 for the LAF.
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" 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."
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.'"
That may not
change anytime soon, says Bush's more wonkish predecessor, an ardent FOL
(Friend of Lance) who says he watched "almost every stage" of the 2005
Tour de France. "Regardless of which party takes the Congress next fall, or
the White House in '08," says Bill Clinton, "we're stuck with this big
deficit [projected to be $3.3 trillion over the next decade]. Even with a
substantial change in policy, there will still be an enormous set of gaps
between what the market will produce and what the government can provide. And
the nongovernmental sector has to step into those gaps."