Does Lance’s Performance Hurt or Help Cancer Survivors?

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In 2008 when Lance Armstrong announced his return to professional cycling he made it quite clear that he was intending to use his media presence to help promote his “Global Cancer Initiative.” (Source: SportsIllustrated.com) SI’s Austin Murphy wrote “Earlier that morning, at the CGI’s “Plenary Session,” Armstrong had been introduced by former president Bill Clinton, who lauded him for the Livestrong Global Cancer Initiative that is being rolled out in lockstep with his return to racing.”

Has Lance’s performance in the pro peleton in 2009 and 2010 helped or hurt his campaign, and by extension cancer survivors?

I’m not trying to be facetious here–while I’ve known several people with cancer it hasn’t touched me as directly as many who are part of the Livestrong campaign. When Lance was on his Tour de France winning streak I talked with and read the stories of many cyclists who were inspired by Lance’s domination of professional cycling after winning his battle against cancer. I’ve personally donated a large amount of money to the campaign to support people participating in his (and other) events.

So do things change now that Lance’s last tour didn’t manage to get him on the podium and saw him falling meters short of having the power to win a stage on this year’s tour?

Perhaps part of this comes from listening to a recent Radiolab podcast on the topic of deception. The whole episode is excellent but the one salient portion had to do with the way that professional athletes have to lie to themselves in order to win. When faced with the overwhelming odds against them becoming an Olympic athlete it’s those that can convince themselves that they’re going to win, that they’re the best who consistently perform the best.

In other words, part of why people win is because they tell themselves they’re going to win. Medical studies show similar results. People who tell themselves that they’ll beat the odds and overcome an illness are more likely to do so than those who think that their condition is terminal.

So the question (that as someone who has never been diagnosed with cancer I cannot answer) is this: “would it have been better motivation for cancer survivors to have the story of Lance’s cycling career end with his seventh victory than to have two lackluster races become part of the legacy?”

Does Lance showing his mortal-ness help or hinder the motivation he’s provided to so many survivors?