So, if you’ve talked to me at any point for more than about 10 minutes you know I’m a rabid cycling fan. I also happen to be a Lance Armstrong fan, which is not much of a given as you may think. Many people around the world have never accepted his comeback from testicular cancer at face value and have come to think of Lance as a drug cheat who’s just never gotten caught. It’s a mantle he’s worn throughout his career.
Without going into the merits of that point of view, which is decidedly NOT the purpose of this blog, I sincerely hope that no matter what people’s historical opinions of Lance are that they can rally around his comeback today. To support that hope, some background:
This past September Lance announced his comeback to pro cycling. He described his rationale for doing so in a recent interview in Outside. In summary, he figured that by his coming back and racing on each continent he could focus dramatically more attention on raising funding for cancer research and prevention. Further, he’s not taking any salary. His earnings go into the foundation. He’s got the money he needs to live on.
The metrics he’s looking to manage (from the Lance Armstrong Foundation) are pretty staggering:
- There are more than 10.5 million cancer survivors living in the United States today
- This number has more than tripled in the past 30 years
- The number of survivors will grow as the population ages and progress against cancer continues
INCIDENCE AND MORTALITY
- 1.4 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year
- 560,000 Americans are expected to die from cancer this year, or more than 1,500 per day
- Nearly 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer during their lifetime
- Within the next decade, cancer is likely to replace heart disease as the leading cause of death in the U.S. It is already the biggest killer of those under the age of 85.
- Today 65% of adults diagnosed with cancer will be alive five years after diagnosis, up from 50% in the 1970s
- African-American men and women have the highest mortality rates for all cancer sites combined
- While dramatic survival improvements have been achieved in patients diagnosed with cancer at age 15 or younger and steady improvement has been made against a number of cancers common among those over age 40, little or no progress has been seen in the adolescent and young adult population. In fact, among those aged 25 to 35 years, survival has not improved in more than two decades.
CANCER COSTS AND INSURANCE COVERAGE
- The overall cost for cancer last year was $206 billion, which includes $78 billion for medical bills, $18 billion for lost productivity from the illness, and $110 billion due to lost productivity from premature death.
- 17% of Americans younger than age 65 have no health insurance coverage and 24% of Americans age 65 or older only have Medicare.
Why is Lance coming back? Because whenever he gets on a bike in a race, he’s making headlines. And when he’s making headlines, he can talk about cancer. And when he can talk about cancer in such a public way, he can dramatically affect the level of awareness of the statistics above. As an example, his first professional race of his comeback was the Tour Down Under in Australia in January. While he was there, he was able to gain a commitment from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for $3.8M in new cancer initiatives. Could he have gotten that commitment in more conventional ways? Maybe. But Lance could do it more effectively in the context of a media frenzy with lots of pictures of him on his bike.
Which, of course, is exactly the point.
He’s even worked with Trek to create custom-painted bikes for his races, painted in the colors of his LIVESTRONG foundation and with icons related to his cause. Here’s his custom time trial bike, taken at this past weekend’s Amgen Tour of California prologue in Sacramento:
Ironically, this bike was stolen from the team’s truck later that night. Fortunately, it’s so utterly distinctive that it was recovered later in the week. The numbers painted on the frame represent the following:
- 1274 represents the number of days between his retirement and his comeback
- 27.5 represents the millions of people who have died of cancer in that time
It’s a wonderful example of a personal unit of measure and a person taking on a cause to manage that metric. No matter what you thought of him before, hopefully you can be a fan in the future.
To get involved…