It is 10 a.m. on July 24 and, from several thousand miles and an ocean away, it is being reported that Lance Armstrong has, indeed, won his seventh consecutive-and last-Tour de France.
I pick up the telephone and dial Dr. Lawrence Einhorn at his home here in Indianapolis.
“What a way to go out,” says the doctor, the pleasure obvious in his voice. “And it still gives me goose bumps.”
What a championship pairing:
Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor.
Lawrence Einhorn, the Indiana University School of Medicine oncologist who saved him and by doing so helped make all that followed possible.
One man’s gifts of science and knowledge given to another, so that man’s gifts of incredible mental and physical skills can serve as inspiration to millions.
Einhorn will be the first to tell you it was not he alone who brought Armstrong back from the ravages of testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain. His fellow oncologist, Dr. Craig Nichols (now at the University of Oregon medical school in Portland), worked with Einhorn to develop the platinum-based chemotherapy that saved Armstrong and thousands of other young men similarly afflicted. It was Dr. Scott Shapiro, who still is at IU, who removed the cancerous lesions from Armstrong’s brain. And, of course, it was Armstrong himself who brought the I-will-beat-this-thing attitude to his treatment.
But it is Einhorn who is most closely connected with the medical miracle Armstrong became.
“It probably has given me a certain amount of recognition,” Einhorn concedes. “But while I am extraordinarily proud of Lance, I’m also very proud of the many other patients I treat who go through this difficult period, also.”
Einhorn says there is no question Armstrong’s high-profile battle with cancer, his survival and the inspiration he has given to other cancer patients have saved lives. In particular, Einhorn says, it has helped men recognize the symptoms at an early stage, allowing early treatment.
“One of the reasons Lance went public about such a private type of cancer is that he didn’t want other young men to come in with as much advanced disease as he had,” Einhorn says. “He actually had a testicular mass for about four to five months and what brought him to medical attention was coughing up blood, and having headaches and back pain. By that time, the disease had spread to his lymph nodes in his abdomen, extensively to his lungs, and also to two separate areas in his brain.
“If someone is destined to have testicular cancer, you’d like for that diagnosis to be made in the first week of symptoms, not four months later.”
Now, nearly nine years after he came to Indianapolis for treatment, and with his seventh successive victory in the Tour, Armstrong is retiring from competition. His fulltime focus will be his Lance Armstrong Foundation (www.laf.org), which has raised more than $50 million.
Einhorn serves on the foundation board.
“We are very much involved in supporting cancer research, clinical trials and survivorship issues,” says Einhorn. “Lance is the quintessential cancer survivor because he went back to such a vigorous life. But that’s not true for everyone who survives cancer. There are issues with health insurance, employment, sexual issues and getting back to a life that’s completely normal. Lance is very concerned about that as a person, and the foundation is also.”
Einhorn said he last talked to Armstrong a couple of weeks before the Tour began. They didn’t discuss cycling, per se.
“I told him I have a cancer patient who’s currently in the hospital and who is a huge race fan,” Einhorn says. “He was going through a difficult time. I asked Lance if he would contact him. A couple days later, I was making rounds and my patient had a big smile on his face. Lance not only had contacted him, but set up a communication with him. It’s the kind of man that Lance is.”
Perhaps it is just coincidence that it worked out like it did … that Armstrong would not recognize his disease until it reached an advanced stage, that out of desperation he would come to Indianapolis seeking Einhorn’s help, that he would then be cured and go on to win not one, but seven Tours in a row and serve as inspiration for cancer victims everywhere.
Perhaps. But I’m reminded of the sign I saw recently in front of a church. It read, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.”
Benner is a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to email@example.com.