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In Defence of Lance…

As this year’s Tour de France starts and we wonder if Chris Froome can take over from Sir Bradley this blog thinks about previous Tours with some sadness. As an oncologist treating testicular cancer the Tour used to be a reminder of one of the great successes of modern oncology. Seeing Lance Armstrong on the podium showed how chemotherapy can overcome even poor prognosis testicular cancer. Lance was an inspiration to our patients. I doubt there has been a happier sight on the chemotherapy day unit at Guy’s Hospital than seeing the young men cheer Lance as he surged past Jan Ullrich, whilst they were receiving their chemotherapy.

So rather than become too melancholy I thought I would use this blog to provide a little balance to all the stick Lance has been taking. Whilst Lance as a cyclist is tarnished forever, the other aspect of his story seems to have been forgotten. The incredible part is that he overcame such aggressive disease and was able to ride competitively. He should therefore remain an inspiring figure for those of us treating testicular cancer, and more importantly for young men battling this disease. Whilst as oncologists we quote impressive survival figures, for patients an example of someone who has survived is far more tangible.

So I have been re-reading ‘It’s not about the bike’ (how ironic that title seems now!). The chapters dealing with diagnosis, treatment and recovery are informative and remain inspiring. It’s easy to see why it became and could still be a touchstone for young men battling testicular cancer.

Whilst many will argue that Armstrong’s well publicised battle against cancer was just part of his ego let’s not forget that it takes guts in the macho world of professional sport to admit illness and potential weakness. Many famous men have been affected by cancer but all too often don’t feel able to talk about it or use their position in a positive way. Armstrong was the polar opposite, happy to provide inspiration and also to raise millions for his cancer charity. He also raised the profile of testicular cancer and the need for ongoing research and there remain many important unanswered questions in this disease:

  • Who need’s adjuvant treatment?
  • What adjuvant treatment should we give?
  • How to minimise toxicity of treatment?
  • Long term toxicity and survivorship issues
  • Why are some patients’ cisplatin insensitive?
  • The role of RPLND and metastatectomy
  • The best second line chemotherapy
  • And many others…..

TUF Cycling Across the Andes: More intrepid cyclists supporting research into urological cancers. For more information visit www.theurologyfoundation.org or www.actionforcharity.co.uk.

So as this year’s Tour de France winds its’ way towards those punishing Alpine stages perhaps we should draw a line and move back to Armstrong as the inspiration for the next generation of men with testicular cancer. I for one will always enjoy that ascent on Alpe D’Huez and how it shows we can over come even the worst disease. So Lance your boys still need you! It’s time to eat a very large slice of humble pie and rewrite the book, warts and all, so that you can be an inspiration to the next generation of men with testicular cancer.

Simon Chowdhury is a Consultant Medical Oncologist at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, London. He is actively involved in clinical trial research into urological cancers.

 

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