Lance Armstrong is still an inspiration for some cancer survivors
Others are angry at Armstrong but still support his Livestrong foundation
Some say Livestrong wristbands are "tainted" by Armstrong
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs while cycling. He’s already been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and this week had to give back his Olympic bronze medal.
But he still must face judgment from a different group of fans: those who have personal experience with cancer.
Armstrong, founder of the cancer charity Livestrong and a survivor of testicular cancer, is still a hero to some cancer survivors. But others express a mix of emotions and are trying to distance their support of his cancer efforts from their anger about his cheating.
Bob Denton, 64, of Tucson, Arizona, said he was surprised that the disgraced cyclist appeared, in his view, “honest but insincere” in his apology in the interview, as if “whatever he was admitting was for his own benefit.”
But Denton doesn’t hold that, or the doping, against Armstrong. In Denton’s mind, Armstrong is still a winner.
“Really, compared to the life and death issues of cancer that Lance has embraced, cheating in the Tour is small potatoes,” Denton said in an e-mail.
Denton, who cycles as a hobby, has worn a Livestrong wristband every day since 2004, even at business meetings. He sent an iReport to CNN.com about it, too.
He had known Armstrong only in the context of cycling before getting a wristband at a 100-mile bike ride in Florida, which prompted him to research Armstrong’s battle with cancer. At that time, he saw the wristband as a symbol of “Lance’s total victory over adversity.”
“When I would be exhausted trying to keep up with the pace line, I’d look down at that yellow band and get my second wind,” Denton said.
The wristband took on a different meaning when Denton developed a cancerous tumor at the base of his tongue in 2009. Then, the wristband became an inspiration for him to overcome the illness.
“Every time the treatments became intolerable, and I felt like my life was over, I’d see that yellow band and it gave me hope that I too would be back on my bike,” Denton said.
Denton’s last treatment was in September 2009, and he has been in remission ever since. These days, he still cycles about 2,000 miles a year.
Armstrong’s cheating in cycling also hasn’t tarnished his image as a source of inspiration for Amy Wadsworth, who found out she had breast cancer at age 29.
She feels grateful for all that Armstrong has done for the cancer community, and appreciates that Livestrong had offered to help her pay for egg preservation because cancer and treatment for it could have impaired her fertility. (She ended up not doing the preservation, but is glad she had the option.)
“I think we should accept his apology and move (on) because what he has done to help people with cancer definitely out weighs the ‘bad.’ He didn’t give up when he was (stared) in the face with cancer,” Wadsworth said of Armstrong. “He kept going and encouraged many other survivors to the same.”
Other cancer survivors, however, aren’t so quick to forgive.
Caden Brody, 49, a two-time cancer survivor who also lost his brother to leukemia, said in an e-mail that he does not believe Armstrong is “an evil man,” but in a comment on a recent CNN.com story he harshly criticized Armstrong’s behavior:
“We cannot deny he raised a lot of awareness and money for cancer. As a survivor I commend that,” Brody wrote. “Unfortunately, he undid everything, in many ways, by his sociopathic need to bully, win, play mind games, and he used cancer as a cloak to cover his sins. If he’d confessed ages ago in true remorse? We’re a pretty forgiving people. But this is a forced, ‘I still want to compete in something so I better apologize’ thing.”
CNN.com user “jackiero” had an even more scathing view of Armstrong, posted in the comments on a recent story:
“As an avid cyclist and a cancer survivor who used cycling to aid in my recovery, I am disgusted by this man,” jackiero wrote. “I threw away all my (Livestrong) gear not because I don’t support the cure – of course I do – but because I support the cure without the taint of a cheater like Armstrong. He was an inspiration until I learned that he was just like all the other chemically induced sports stars who rake in millions and millions.”
Bruce Ross, 64, of Ajijic, Mexico, near Guadalajara, is also dealing with his mixed feelings about Livestrong and Armstrong. Ross has worn his two Livestrong bracelets, one for each time he had cancer, every day since his second surgery in 2006. He gives Livestrong cancer guidebooks to patients he meets who have been newly diagnosed, but has separated his feelings about the foundation from Armstrong.
“When people ask me about Lance, I try to leave him out of the conversation if I can discuss Livestrong in the answer,” he said in an e-mail. “For me, the last year has been all about the foundation.”
Armstrong’s actions have also changed the way some family members of cancer survivors view him. Susan Moberg Hopkins of Seattle, who submitted an iReport about her family, still supports Livestrong, but has a cynical view toward Armstrong.
Hopkins’ family contacted Livestrong after her late husband, Marty, found out he had a brain tumor, and she said the staff there was very responsive. Marty was a big fan of Armstrong, and the Hopkins used the cyclist as a way of explaining to her children, who were 12 and 17, that it’s possible to recover from cancer and accomplish many things.
“You look for role models, you look for people that help get you through things, and I would say Lance did that,” she said Friday.
Armstrong is less of a role model now, she said, because he lied about what he did to get ahead in cycling. The Livestrong bracelets, she believes, are “tainted” by Armstrong.
He affected people “in a way that is far more significant than a bike race,” she said. “It’s about life and death. I don’t know if he will ever be able to say he’s really sorry.”
CNN’s Henry Hanks and Nicole Saidi contributed to this report.