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Armstrong inspiration to suvivors



Published: Sat, July 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Audra Outlaw won her cancer battle while following his cycling career.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Audra Outlaw wakes up each day with the infant son doctors told her she'd never be able to have.

She scoops up 3-month-old Gage, clicks on the TV, and mother and son settle back into bed to watch for Lance Armstrong's yellow jersey streaking across the French countryside.

"He's such an inspiration," said Outlaw, who has closely followed Armstrong's career since she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. "We're nervous, but confident he will win."

A cancer survivor, Armstrong has inspired millions of patients with his six straight Tour de France titles. But for the 34-year-old Outlaw and others, Armstrong's quest for a seventh is bittersweet: this Tour de France will be his last race.

"It will be interesting to see what he does next," Outlaw said. "It's fun to watch the Tour, but I don't see us necessarily watching with as much enthusiasm as we do now."

Breast cancer in 2002

Outlaw was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. She knew Armstrong's story, but had not taken a keen interest in the race itself until that summer spent on the couch laboring through chemotherapy.

Every day, she turned on the TV to watch each stage of Armstrong's fourth Tour victory. She's been a dedicated fan ever since.

"I could barely get up and my hair was falling out," Outlaw said. "To get that little bit of inspiration every morning .... That makes you say 'Yes, I can get out of bed today."'

Outlaw's husband, Blake, also relied on Armstrong's story to help him cope with his wife's illness. Before Audra Outlaw's diagnosis, both had read Armstrong's book that chronicled his cancer fight. Both reread the book after her diagnosis.

"The first time I read it, it was all about bicycle racing. The second time I read it, it was all about his fight," said Blake Outlaw, who also turned to the Lance Armstrong Foundation for support and information.

One of those closest to Armstrong's bout with cancer continues to be amazed at his ability to inspire patients.

Lawrence Einhorn, a professor at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis, was one of the doctors who treated Armstrong in 1996. He is a former president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and an expert in testicular cancer.

Most famous cancer patient

"He's the most famous cancer patient in the world," Einhorn said. "I don't think there's ever been an athlete as loved, as legitimately loved, as him."

That's probably because of Armstrong's ongoing connection with cancer patients. The cyclist has said he's most proud of his label as a cancer survivor.

Einhorn said he recently told Armstrong of a patient who was struggling through treatment, and that Armstrong sent the man a personal e-mail.

In 2004, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Nike teamed up to develop the LiveStrong yellow wristbands. Sales have surged past 50 million, foundation spokeswoman Michelle Milford said.

The LiveStrong campaign is at least partly responsible for Gage Outlaw.

Went against doctors

Told by doctors she was infertile after chemotherapy, Audra Outlaw decided to stop taking drugs she had been given to help prevent the cancer from coming back in order to try getting pregnant. Her doctor recommended against such a risky move, considering that even if she could become pregnant, the pregnancy itself might promote a relapse.

"It took a lot of soul searching," she said. "A lot of the inspiration came from the whole LiveStrong campaign. It's about not being afraid to live every day."

Now Gage is watching his first and last Tour featuring Armstrong.

"We don't watch TV normally," Audra Outlaw said. "I think the Tour is the only thing he's ever seen."




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