Internationally acclaimed cyclist Lance Armstrong seems to have made significant strides in his efforts to raise cancer awareness by roping in many US presidential candidates.
At least eight presidential candidates have survived cancer or had it strike someone close to them, fueling hopes by retired cyclist Lance Armstrong and others that they'll succeed in a high-profile drive to make cancer research and prevention a priority for the next president.
"We have a unique opportunity because of the success of the yellow band," Armstrong said in an interview.
The yellow silicone Livestrong wristband was launched by the Lance Armstrong foundation in 2004 as part of its efforts to raise funds for cancer, generally promote awareness of the disease and encourage people to live life to the fullest.
His own story is inspiring. At age 25, Lance Armstrong was one of the world's best cyclists. He proved it by winning the World Championships, the Tour Du Pont and multiple Tour de France stages. Lance Armstrong seemed invincible and his future was bright.
Then they told him he had testicular cancer.
It is a most common cancer in men aged 15-35. If detected early, its cure rate is a promising 90 percent. But like most young, healthy men, Lance ignored the warning signs, and he never imagined the seriousness of his condition. Going untreated, the cancer had spread to Lance's abdomen, lungs and brain. His chances dimmed.
Then a combination of physical conditioning, a strong support system and competitive spirit took over. He declared himself not a cancer victim but a cancer survivor. He took an active role in educating himself about his disease and the treatment. Armed with knowledge and confidence in medicine, he underwent aggressive treatment and beat the disease. He came back to the circuit and won the Tour de France seven times after his diagnosis.
During his treatment, before his recovery, before he even knew his own fate, he had created the Lance Armstrong Foundation. This marked the beginning of Lance's life as an advocate for people living with cancer and a world representative for the cancer community.
Ten years later he is the best known face of cancer awareness campaign in the US.
His foundation is sponsoring "presidential cancer forums" Monday and Tuesday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He said subjects will include the National Cancer Institute's "shrinking" budget and how to reduce annual cancer deaths (600,000) and diagnoses (1.3 million).
The Democratic participants are scheduled to be New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, former North Carolina senator John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. The Republicans are Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
Armstrong called it "a shame" that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, whose mother died of ovarian cancer, declined. He said he was also disappointed by turn-downs from Arizona Sen. John McCain, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
"If they don't want to show up and discuss the No. 1 killer in this country, voters will have to decide whether that's the right strategy," Armstrong said.
McCain, a melanoma survivor, will be on a long-scheduled vacation, his office said. Romney and Giuliani cited schedule conflicts. Obama is "with his family that day," spokesman Bill Burton said.
Of those attending, Brownback had melanoma in 1995. Huckabee's wife, Janet, was diagnosed with spinal cancer as a 19-year-old newlywed. Clinton's mother-in-law, Virginia Kelley, died of breast cancer. Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, is campaigning as she battles breast cancer that has spread to the bone.
The two-hour forums will be moderated by Armstrong and Chris Matthews and shown live on MSNBC both days.
Dan Smith, president of the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network, called Armstrong "a very powerful voice" to help make sure the next president launches "a new war on cancer." Smith said his own group is mounting an aggressive effort toward the same goal, including a 48-state bus tour, after "a pilot phase" in 2004.
That year, Democratic nominee John Kerry was a prostate cancer survivor and President Bush had been touched by a sister's death from leukemia when he was 7. Democrat Dick Gephardt often spoke of the experimental, insurance-covered treatment that saved his toddler son in the 1970s despite a diagnosis of terminal cancer.
Cancer comes up frequently on the 2008 campaign trail. Before he quit the race this month, former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson pledged that as president, he'd find a cure for breast cancer. His wife, daughter and mother-in-law all had the disease.
Obama tells audiences about his mother's insurance worries after she was diagnosed at 53, "between jobs." Giuliani mentioned his prostate cancer several times last week in a discussion with New Hampshire voters about health insurance.
Edwards raised the subject at an ABC debate Sunday after candidates were asked if prayer could prevent disasters: "I prayed before my 16-year-old son died; I prayed before Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer. I think there are some things that are beyond our control."
His son died in an accident and during the 2004 elections when Edwards was the vice presidential nominee, his wife Elizabeth's breast cancer was detected. It has since returned but Edwards is soldiering on and she is by his side.