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Lance Armstrong, the listener

January 18, 2009 |  9:45 pm

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ADELAIDE, Australia -- This Lance Armstrong, the one who came to the Royal Adelaide Hospital to speak on behalf of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which raises money for cancer research, is not a figure of controversy. He is not a divisive sports figure whose motives for making a cycling comeback are debated, whose past triumphs are diminished by some as being tarnished by the suspicion of drug use -- even though Armstrong, during his stretch of winning seven straight Tour de France championships, didn't fail a drug test before his retirement in July 2005.

This Armstrong was a touchstone figure Monday. At a lecture hall in Adelaide and via teleconferences that offered cancer patients in Sydney and Melbourne the chance to tell their stories, Armstrong was just another cancer survivor whose own experiences with the disease seemed to make it easier for some regular folks to speak to a superstar.

Jimmy stood up in Sydney wearing a bandanna. His words were broadcast on a big screen in Adelaide. Jimmy had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2005. He was in remission for 27 months, relapsed, and now, he told Armstrong, he needs a stem-cell transplant to keep on living. So far six million potential donors have been tested and found not to be a match for Jimmy. "I admire your courage," Jimmy told Armstrong. "I admire your courage to get back on the bike."

Helen stood next at the microphone and told Armstrong she had been diagnosed with incurable lung cancer, that she has three children, three reasons to keep fighting. Helen said she had read Armstrong's book and followed his triumphs on the bike and off. "I personally applaud you, Lance, for being all about the bike," Helen said, and Armstrong took a swipe at his eye.

"How are you mate?" said Jeremy Papamau, 18, an Australian junior national team rugby star. Papamau was diagnosed a year ago with testicular cancer, the same variety suffered by Armstrong. "I've played for my country," Papamau said. "During treatment I had to be in isolation, even my family had to stand on the other side of the glass, so for a lot of us this is a big metaphorical thing, you coming back. Thanks, mate."

Armstrong said one of the hardest decisions for cancer survivors is whether or not to tell of their ordeals. Some prefer not to talk about the disease and its implications on the rest of life because they don't want to remember the uncomfortable treatments or the way it makes other family members sad. But Armstrong said there was also another way, one his oncologist suggested. "It takes a lot of courage to share your stories," Armstrong told the Aussie cancer survivors. "Live strong," he said.  "That's all I can say. Live strong."

Live strong is the motto for Armstrong's foundation, which has raised more than $250 million for cancer research. But Monday, Armstrong wasn't a fundraiser or a cyclist. He was just another guy who had a story to tell, and who wanted to hear the stories of others.

-- Diane Pucin

Photo: Lance Armstrong, in Australia to make a return to bicycle racing in the Tour Down Under, visits patients at the Royal Adelaide Hospital during the launch of the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer
Campaign. Credit: Jamie McDonald / Agence France-Presse

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