Lance's Call For Cancer Research, and Why It Matters To Us All

Casey MichelCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2008

In order to counteract the bad karma I earned while earlier calling out Lance Armstrong, this is a piece I penned about Lance's 2007 visit to Rice University, where he reiterated his support of stronger cancer research. Not only was his message powerful, but it hit close to home, a sentiment I'm sure nearly all of you can share. Hope you enjoy:

I am a liar. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.

Three weeks ago, I wrote a column detailing the lone black mark — Rice’s abrupt College World Series exit — in my otherwise glorious summer. But there was one thing beyond a mere baseball game which marred that season.

My dad was diagnosed with cancer last summer, a unique strand that secretes mucus. If it had still been contained in a sac like it originally was, an easy snip could have taken care of it, but the growth that originally tipped the doctors off had burst and spread the cancerous cells throughout my dad’s abdomen.

To say that my family had been thrown for a loop was like saying the Chicago Bears have a minor quarterback problem. But unlike Rex Grossman’s gross incompetency, there’s not a whole lot you can do for cancer other than sit on the sidelines and hope.

The time had finally come for me to join the cheerless, dismal club of having a relative diagnosed with cancer.

But this wasn’t some distant cousin three times my age — this was my dad. When they’re young, every son looks at their father in awe: an invincible, faultless Superman that you can only hope to one day become. He’s the first pal you want to play catch with, and he’s the last person you want to know you got in trouble at school.

And now, with this diagnosis, it looked like my mitt would no longer be snagging one of his errant throws.

But life goes on, and if there’s one thing that my dad taught me, it’s that you have to jump at every opportunity you get. I jumped at the opportunity to go to Rice, I jumped at the opportunity to become sports editor at the paper, and when I heard Lance Armstrong would be visiting the school, I jumped at that opportunity, too.

Everyone knows Armstrong’s story. From his battle with testicular cancer to his tug-of-war with the French tabloids, his tale of his near-death experience and subsequent climb to the top will someday make for a good Disney movie. The details don’t need to be rehashed; his seven Tour de France wins speak for themselves.

Since his retirement, the Plano native has turned his inspiring story into a platform for furthering an idea. However, while celebrities nowadays always seem to have a pet cause that helps only those immediately around them — how many kids does Angelina need to adopt? — Armstrong has thrown his weight behind a cause that affects, literally, all of us. We have all undoubtedly seen, probably even bought, one his yellow Livestrong bracelets. Maybe you got it because you supported Armstrong’s cause, or maybe you bought it because you like things that remind you of Oregon Ducks helmets (if that is the case, shame on you). Regardless, you bought one with the knowledge that proceeds go to cancer research.

Unfortunately, the bracelet’s goal is not yet realized, which is why Armstrong visited the Rice campus last week. Completely unpublicized, the “media-only” press conference, which also featured Texas State Senator Jane Nelson and a pair of State Representatives, saw Armstrong come out with his support of Proposition 15. This bill, if you haven’t already heard, will allocate approximately $3 billion for cancer research funding, so it’s easy to see why the cyclist would care so much about its success.

Following a touching introduction from Rice President David Leebron — which included an emotional few seconds where he mentioned his sister’s unsuccessful battle with breast cancer — Armstrong took the stage. He spoke of the 37,000 Texans who will die this year of the disease, of the $30 billion cancer costs Texans, and of the eventual goal of raising $3 billion to form the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

As soon as the press conference ended, the cameras swarmed to get a close-up of the cyclist. Meaningless chitchat ensued — along with my photographer’s successful request for an autograph — but before I knew it Armstrong headed my way. I nervously stuck out my tape recorder, pressed record, and asked, “What do you have to say to the Rice student body?”

“The first thing I would say is to vote yes on the proposition and choose to invest the money,” Armstrong coolly replied. “It’s undeniable that it's a sound investment. It comes back in spades — that's just on a purely cold, economic level.

“But on a human, personal, emotional level, it's an investment that we need to make. And, you know, watching the JFK talk about going to the moon, watching President Nixon declare war, watching President Bush declare war, you know our country normally doesn't back down from fights. This is one we haven't backed down from, but we haven't necessarily backed it up.”

Now, I’m not going to use this column space to proselytize, or use it as a pulpit for preaching political ideals. But, at least to me, Proposition 15 sounds like a good idea. And although Armstrong would go on to state that he’d never heard of Rice’s tradition of Beer-Bike (“I know both those things separately,” he responded, laughing), the man was able to maintain his ethos.

When all was said and done, when the microphones were shut off and the cameramen driving away, there was only one person I thought of talking to about this interview: my dad. And when he answered, I thought of how lucky I truly was.

You see, my dad beat the cancer that the doctor’s had found, and beat it handily. Granted, he still has to go in for check-ups every few months, but his clean bill of health is the most welcomed bill we’ve ever received.

And, my friends, that’s no lie.