Lance Armstrong is diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer
On October 2, 1996, at age 25, Armstrong was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer.
The cancer had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. On that first visit to a urologist in Austin, Texas, for his cancer symptoms he was already coughing up blood and had a large, painful testicular tumor. Immediate surgery and chemotherapy were required to save his life. Armstrong had an orchiectomy to remove his diseased testicle. After his surgery his doctor admitted that he had had less than a 40% survival chance.
The standard chemotherapeutic regimen for the treatment of this type of cancer is a cocktail of the drugs BEP (bleomycin, etoposide, and cisplatin (or Platinol)). Armstrong, however, chose an alternative, VIP (etoposide, ifosfamide, and cisplatin), to avoid the lung toxicity associated with the drug bleomycin. This decision may have saved his cycling career. His primary treatment was received at the Indiana University (IU), Indianapolis, Medical Center, where Dr. Lawrence Einhorn had pioneered the use of cisplatinum to treat testicular cancer. His primary oncologist there was Dr. Craig Nichols. Also at IU, his brain tumors were surgically removed and found to be necrotic (dead). His last chemotherapy treatment was received on December 13, 1996.
His cancer went into complete remission, and by January 1998 he was already engaged in serious training for racing, moving to Europe to race for the U.S. Postal team. A pivotal week (April, 1998) in his comeback was one he spent training in the very challenging Appalachian terrain around Boone, North Carolina, with his racing friend Bob Roll.
October 2, 1996. The day it all changed. The day I stated never to take anything for granted. The day I learned to take charge of my life. It was the day I was diagnosed with cancer.”— Lance Armstrong
On October 2, 1996, just weeks after his twenty-fifth birthday, the young cyclist was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had also spread to his lungs, abdomen, lymph nodes, and brain. Doctors predicted a slim a chance for recovery—less than 40 percent. Armstrong, however, was not ready to give up. He read everything he could about the disease and changed his diet, giving up coffee, dairy products, and red meat. After consulting his doctors, Armstrong decided to forego the traditional treatment for brain tumors, which is radiation. Side effects from radiation can include a loss of balance and a scarring of the lungs, which would mean that he would probably never race again. Instead doctors performed surgery to remove the tumors, and then administered an alternative and aggressive form of chemotherapy.
Between rounds of chemotherapy Armstrong continued to ride his bicycle as much as he could, and he never lost his determination to return to professional racing. At the same time, he was on an emotional roller coaster. As he told Time in 1999, "I had the same emotions when I was sick as I have as a competitive athlete. At first I was angry, then I felt motivated and driven to get better. And then when I knew I was getting better, I knew I was winning." Armstrong's determination to win paid off when, in February of 1997, he was declared cancer-free.
Still physically and emotionally weak, Armstrong returned to training with a vengeance, but getting back on his bike proved harder than he imagined. His spirits especially dropped when he found out that his contract had been cancelled by Cofidis, who considered him to be a public relations risk because of his illness. Armstrong was fortunate to sign with the U.S. Postal Service cycling team, but his salary dropped from $600,000 (pre-cancer) to $200,000 per year. In his autobiography, Armstrong half-jokingly called his pay cut, "an 80 percent cancer cut."
On October, 2, 1996, it was discovered that Lance had advanced testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs. The cancer was spreading rapidly and Lance went to emergency surgery to remove the tumors.
The doctors got the cancer just in time to save Lance’s life. After aggressive chemotherapy, all the cancer was killed.
After months of recuperation, it was apparent that Lance would not only survive, but be able to function as a physically-active person. After contemplating what kind of life he should lead, he decided that a return to racing would signify that he had beat the cancer.
Upon returning to peloton, Lance searched for another goal. Through consultations with friends, coaches and other athletes, he decided that a return to the Tour de France would be his next goal.
Before the cancer, Lance was a powerful rider who had a build more similar to an American football player than a bicycle racer.
After the cancer, however, his body dropped most of its muscle mass. Through training, Armstrong further streamlined his body and rebuilt himself into a Tour de France contender. His weight after the rebuild was 15 pounds (7 kg) less than his racing weight prior to the cancer.
The muscles in Lance’s upper body didn’t get rebuilt to the same level as before. This allowed Lance to ride the high mountains with the climbing specialists. Lance was always a good time-trialer, but after the rebuilding, he was even better.
On top of that, he had already suffered more physical pain than most people could ever dream of. In short, he was now prepared to win the Tour de France.