PARIS—Cancer survivor Lance Armstrong's inspirational third-place Tour de France finish has motivated thousands of patients battling cancer to eventually finish third to their life-threatening disease.
"For years now, Lance has worked tirelessly to portray his life and his racing career as a symbol of inspiration for cancer patients everywhere, and now he's succeeded beyond his wildest dreams," said Nathan Frist, director of the Stanford Cancer Center, where the entire oncology ward watched Armstrong's third-place Tour de France finish and proudly raised their hands to display the blue "Do Not Resuscitate" medical bracelets they wore to support Armstrong's effort. "By tomorrow, this place will be almost empty."
Armstrong's third place finish, coupled with his relentless endeavors to raise awareness of himself as a cancer survivor and role model, have taken him almost overnight from one survivor among many to a living symbol of a man who only lets two things beat him. To many cancer patients seeking guidance and inspiration, he has become the new bronze standard.
"Lance Armstrong has never missed a chance to stand up and tell cancer patients everywhere to follow his example, and seeing him there on the bottom step of the podium sent us all a powerful message," 42-year-old Brian Goodwood, who was diagnosed with colon cancer last year, said Sunday. "If third is the best he can do, then I know Lance would want me to do it too."
Goodwood succumbed to a combination of cancer and complications from chemotherapy Tuesday morning.
Armstrong has won seven previous Tours de France, all while making every effort to equate those performances to triumphing over cancer. However, his 2009 effort—preceded by a Nike-sponsored promotional campaign making it clear that Armstrong had made a career comeback specifically for those with cancer—sent a new message as Armstrong struggled through the three-week, 1,500 mile competition. While he refused to give up, Armstrong finished in third behind Andy Schleck and more than five minutes behind winner Alberto Contador, facts that were not lost on those he insisted upon inspiring.
"I love Lance, and I'm gonna finish third just like he did!" said Karen Monaghan, a 6-year-old patient at the Texas Cancer Center recently diagnosed with lymph node cancer and calcifications in her lung tissue, holding up three fingers to symbolize the inspiration she drew from Armstrong.
"We're all gonna come in third to cancer!" the children of New York City's St. Vincent's Cancer Center exclaimed in unison while videotaping a message they will send Armstrong to show him he was making a difference and to thank him for his third-place effort.
St. Vincent's, which is widely regarded as the city's third-best hospital for cancer treatment, has announced that it will dedicate an entirely new oncology wing to help cancer patients better deal with their struggles. Hospital administrators said they will appoint a white-ribbon panel of experts to help them design and staff the new wing, where defeating cancer will be the tertiary goal.
"My wife loved Lance. He lifted her spirits when she was diagnosed. Susan hung on his every word.... She couldn't wait to watch him in his comeback Tour, and I've never seen her more moved than when he finished," said St. Vincent's Board of Directors chairman Gary James. "I'm really going to miss her."
Despite having inspired people around the globe, a visibly moved Armstrong held a press conference Wednesday morning to thank his fans and supporters and to explain that he may have sent the wrong message with his third-place finish and his starring role in a endless cancer-themed promotional campaign.
"Please, I beg you, if you have cancer, please realize that while I may have more or less set myself up as a heroic personification of the struggle against cancer, well.... This is hard for me to say, but I think a lot of cancer patients out there can do better than I just did," Armstrong said. "I mean, I wanted to win."