Column: We still need Lance, even if he doped

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By PAUL NEWBERRY, Associated Press

"Hell" is how one cancer patient describes it — the helpless feeling of sitting in a hospital room all alone, a potion that is both toxic and lifesaving flowing into her body.

When she didn't know whether she would live or die, when she didn't know if she could possibly endure another round of the horrifying chemo treatments at St. Luke's in New York, there was someone who helped her endure.

Lance Armstrong.

No, not Lance the fallen two-wheeled star whose reputation and cycling legacy is in tatters. The other Lance, the philanthropist and cancer survivor who has inspired so many.

"I know firsthand how much good he's done," said the woman, whose cancer is now in remission but asked that her name not be used because she's a public figure and isn't ready to let the world know about her condition. "He's touched too many lives to stop now. He's given hope to too many people."

Armstrong made cycling cool in America with seven straight Tour de France titles. He will likely be stripped of them all because of what he put in his body.

That Lance is done, gone forever.

We hope the other Lance continues to serve. So many still need him.

"I think saving millions of lives — and I'm not exaggerating by any means — far outweighs any athletic accomplishment," said Olympic swimmer Eric Shanteau, who, like Armstrong, survived testicular cancer.

This is the dichotomy we're faced with after Armstrong decided not to dispute the charges leveled against him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. He still refuses to acknowledge using any performance-enhancing drugs, but that's essentially what he did when he decided not to carry on the fight. His reasoning — that he was simply tired of contesting accusations that first came up more than a decade ago — rings hollow, to say the least.

After all, he had stared down cancer when told he had less than a 50-50 chance of living. He had turned the towering Pyrenees into tame little hills during all those glorious Tour de France triumphs, refusing to be beaten no matter the physical toll on his body.

To give up now? Well, USADA must've had quite an impressive case against him.

It's time to let go of that Lance — the disgraced doper, like so many in his sport, not to mention one who can be sullen and snarky — and embrace the other side of the man.

The charismatic figure who started a foundation that raised a half a billion dollars, and counting, for the fight against cancer. The caring person who shows up at hospitals unannounced, without an entourage, giving so many victims of this dreaded disease a reason to live. Maybe he does it with a few words. Maybe it's just sitting with them while they're undergoing treatments.

All of it helps tremendously.

"Livestrong has almost made cancer acceptable," said Shanteau, who started working with Armstrong's foundation after he underwent successful surgery. "That's such a dangerous word — to 'accept' — but people are willing to talk about it now. People are willing to address it. People are willing to support it. Livestrong has done that. Lance should be proud that his organization, in a sense, has outgrown him."

Shanteau is all for clean sport, but he felt no reservations about joining up with Livestrong after learning he had testicular cancer just ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He never had any trouble separating the shady athlete from the man who has done so much good away from his bike.

This other fight is far more important than the one he's been waging with USADA.

"When a person goes to Livestrong or any other cancer foundation, the last thing on his mind is that," Shanteau said. "They're walking in there fighting for their lives. They need help. The foundation is going to continue to be there to help."

Shanteau has seen both sides of the fight. He beat cancer. His father didn't.

"I still got to see all the benefits from the foundation that he got, and the pride he got from seeing me work with the foundation," Shanteau said. "I've seen how Livestrong affects people the cancer community and what a positive force they have been in that fight."

There are hopeful signs in the wake of Armstrong's bombshell capitulation. He tweeted Friday that donations to Livestrong were 25 times higher than the previous day, when he raised the white flag.

"Thank you thank you thank you!" he wrote.

Around the country, people donned their Livestrong bracelets, showing solidarity with Armstrong the cancer fighter, if not Armstrong the supposed doper.

The American Cancer Society is sticking with him, too.

"It is our hope that the foundation will continue its important work," said John R. Seffrin, the organization's CEO. "Reducing suffering and death from cancer is a moral imperative, and the Lance Armstrong foundation's contribution is sorely needed."

So, if you're wearing a Livestrong bracelet today, that doesn't mean you're supporting athletes shooting themselves up with all sorts of illicit chemicals, looking to boost their strength or improve their endurance.

Even Armstrong's most ardent supporters seem at ease conceding that, yes, he probably juiced.

Larry DeGaris, director of the sports marketing program at the University of Indianapolis, said he doesn't expect the USADA case to have a major impact on Armstrong's fundraising abilities.

"His celebrity has superseded his sports accomplishments and is now more based on being a cancer survivor than a Tour de France winner," DeGaris said. "I reckon there's something uniquely American going on with athletes who transcend their sports and for whom performance on the field of play becomes secondary."

For once, that's a good thing.

We no longer care if Armstrong injected himself with something that helped him win the Tour de France over and over again.

Now, it's about finding a chemical we can inject into anyone stricken with cancer, to kill off that insidious disease before it takes another loved one, another close friend, another person we admired from afar.

We need all the help we can get in that battle.

We need Lance.

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Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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