He may have cheated his way to seven Tour de France titles, but disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong remains a hero to several cancer survivors in SA who have saluted his fight against the disease.
“One thing I’ve learnt in my life is that cancer survivors face death and realise that all people are mortal human beings. You’ve got to look at the bigger picture – the fact is that he has done a lot for the (cancer) cause,” said Sue Janse van Rensburg, the chief executive of the Cancer Association of SA, and who beat lymphatic cancer almost 30 years ago.
“He spoke out for testicular cancer, when nobody did at the time, and that was a good thing. I’m grateful to him,” said Janse van Rensburg, who met Armstrong on several occasions on his visits to South Africa.
“But it’s sad, because I also see a big icon that’s fallen like Hansie Cronje. We’re all human. It will be sad if this affects his cancer foundation, which is doing a lot to fight cancer worldwide.”
In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer that quickly spread to his brain and lungs, and he underwent surgery and extensive chemotherapy.
Teresa Wilson, a breast cancer survivor and marathon runner from Bryanston, said Armstrong remained an inspiration. “When I was diagnosed last April and the first thing I did was read his book. Throughout all the doping scandals, we shared common ground. We both heard the words: ‘You have cancer’.
“He knows what it takes hearing those three words, fighting it, being positive, fit and healthy. The example that he has set for people with cancer is without a shadow of doubt undeniable as far as cancer people are concerned. He will always remain an inspiration,” she said.
“It’s not right what he did. But the fact that he beat cancer, and that his Livestrong Foundation raised $450m (R4 billion) and helped so many cancer patients, that trumps everything else that he has done or said,” said Wilson, who was diagnosed just weeks before she was due to run the Comrades last year.
“To me, he’s still an inspiration. I don’t condone what he did but it still doesn’t change my opinion of him – someone who took the bull by the horns, fought the disease and paid it forward. He decided to use what happened to him to make a difference to others.
“That’s what he does and continues to do. He’s a sportsman who deceived many people. But to others, he is a cancer survivor.”
Moshe Nchwe, another cancer survivor, agreed.
“Whether he’s guilty of any doping, I still think the work he has done as a cancer survivor is commendable. Without condoning what he did, the guy’s still my inspiration – not for his career as a cyclist – but for his bravery of fighting cancer and also fighting and helping those involved in combating cancer and making our world a cancer-free world.
“One cannot just turn a blind eye to what he has done for the cancer community just because of what is happening to him now… This whole scandal has got nothing to do with his fight against cancer and he will always remain my inspiration as a cancer survivor myself.”
Meanwhile, several local companies, including Tiger Brands and the JAG Foundation, who had brought Armstrong to SA, said they would not pursue obtaining refunds from the athlete. Several calls have been made abroad for reparations for appearance fees paid to the athlete.