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Tales (not) from the Peloton

A rendezvous with Lance Armstrong

Westfield Marriott Conference Center, Chantilly, VA, October 2, 2002

Alex and Lance talk about stuff
Photo: © Peter Lindeman
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An inspiring encounter with four-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong will hopefully make Alex's road to recovery a successful one, as Peter Lindeman writes.

I am a Masters' / cat 3 racer for a team in Washington DC. I've been racing for five years now, and was preparing this spring for a big push to cat 2. However, as luck would have it, life intervenes. On April 18, my 9 year old son Alex, was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma - a fairly rare bone cancer, located in his right femur. This is of course every parent's worst nightmare; you never want to hear the "C word" in the same sentence as your child's name.

Luckily we were in the care of the Oncology staff at Children's National Medical Center in DC. One of the best in the business. We went from preliminary diagnosis to chemotherapy in six days. Unfortunately for Alex, his femur was so damaged by the cancer that it would have to be replaced with a titanium prosthetic. But that was a few months later. First the chemo to reduce the size of the tumor so that it could be removed during the surgical process.

I should preface this story with a little more information on Alex. His treatment has been going great - even the surgery. His recovery is well ahead of what we and his doctors expected. His attitude has been tremendous; he has never questioned this whole process or gotten down about it. He has developed an interest in bike racing over the years and is looking forward to becoming an official junior racer next year when he turns 10. Since he has not been very mobile this summer, he has watched a lot of TV with me; all the big tours on OLN. He swears he hears the Lincoln jingle in his sleep! And one of the books we have read from is Lance's book, which certainly resonates a little differently than it did when I first read it a few years ago.

Now, to the part of the story involving Lance. Two weeks ago while Lance was in DC, my teammate Jason, who has met Lance a few times, tried to have us get together with Lance. But it didn't quite work out - Lance was very busy with trips to Capitol Hill and the White House.

However, another teammate, Kevin, had a friend at the White House who managed to get Alex a signed picture during a dinner. When Lance heard it was to sign the picture for Alex, he asked: "Is this Alex who I was trying to get in touch with this week?"

So Lance was back in town - or at least at the conference center in Chantilly, about 45 minutes away. He got word to Jason that today at 5.45 would be good. So we got there right at 5, met Jason in the lobby, and none of us knew what would happen next. Would Lance come down? There were some other people in the lobby holding Lance's book. This is how Alex figured out the secret - I hadn't told him who we were there to meet. So we went into the bar and played pool with Jason until 5.30, then went back to the lobby.

After a minute, a man in a suit and Bristol Myers nametag came over and asked Alex: "Are you Alex?". This was followed by a woman who asked the same thing. "We'll take you up to Lance's suite in about five minutes - he is changing but he'll be ready soon," she said. So Alex began to get real excited - he had officially been summoned to Lance's hotel suite! Sweet!

The man and woman came back and led us down a maze of corridors and elevators. I talked to them about Alex's clinical trial. The conference was evidently about cancer clinical trials; I assume Lance was there at the behest of Bristol Myers, one of his sponsors. They were very nice; I described the good treatment he was receiving at Children's Hospital, among other things.

Then we knock on a big double door, someone opens and says "Come on in" - and Alex bolted in! And there was Lance! He offered Jason and me a beer (Corona) and Alex a water - we sat down in the living room of the suite, with the I Am Sam soundtrack on the stereo. Bill Stapleton popped in to say hi - he is Lance's longtime friend and manager (he plays a big role in the book). We talked for a second, then I had Alex show his scar and we talked for 20 minutes about Alex's treatment.

I should say Alex and Lance (Jason and I were not much involved in the conversation) talked about Alex's treatment, which was great. I wanted it to be Alex's special time and clearly Lance did too. Lance showed Alex his little scar from his Broviac catheter (a port that goes directly into the chest for infusing drugs and taking blood samples), in the same spot on his chest as Alex. They talked about chemo drugs, they talked about surgery. It was great. Lance really made Alex feel comfortable; he seemed to be genuinely interested in Alex, and it was cool to be talking to someone who understood exactly what Alex has been going through. No need to explain every little thing, Lance knew. We did get a word in about Anna (Alex's 8-yr old sister) about how it has at times been awkward for her, but she seems to have adjusted fine. Talked about how all our family are close by, how big a help they have been (along with friends too), how important that has been.

I mentioned how well Alex did following his 7th chemo cycle (next-to-last inpatient) and Lance seemed impressed, and told Alex how sick it made him each time. He was surprised to hear that Alex's treatment is so lengthy (14 cycles of chemo total every third week) but I said it is an aggressive cancer and we need to be sure it's totally eliminated. Turns out the 2nd of October is Lance's 6th anniversary for being officially cancer-free, so we met him on a pretty special day.

Though it seemed we had only been there a minute, it was time to go. Lance signed our copy of his book with a nice note to Alex. We took a couple pictures and that was it. We said thank you and started to leave. Lance scrambled around to find Alex a souvenir of some kind; he finally grabbed a Nike cap and gave it to Alex. And that was it - we shook hands and went back into the maze with a promise of meeting again and hopefully a bike ride soon!

 

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