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Cancer survivor feels sting of Armstrong's betrayal


In those dark days when she was battling thyroid cancer, and then again 13 years later when she was dealing with melanoma, Teresa McConville always had Lance Armstrong. Sure, of course, her husband was there by her side, as well as her two daughters, and the friends she made in Sonoma County. And the oncologists. She'll never forget the oncologists. Yes, Teresa's team were many and they were strong.

But Lance, well, this was different for McConville. He was waging the war publicly against the disease, beating testicular cancer, then beating everyone on the bike for seven years at the Tour de France.

"Sure, winning all those years, things seemed a little fishy," McConville said. "I mean there are so many good cyclists in the world."

Still, McConville believed in Armstrong if for no other reason than she wanted to believe. People who have or are fighting cancer look for support and hope wherever they can find it. And Armstrong, well, he made it easy for people to find him. He was everywhere. With celebrities. With proclamations. With those yellow wristbands. With "Livestrong" on his wrist wherever he went. Cancer changes people and oh my gosh, look what it did to Lance Armstrong! He beat it and is now our spear carrier, McConville thought, leading our fight, the good fight.

"He gave a lot of inspiration to me," said McConville, who lived in Santa Rosa for 12 years and is returning to the city for good this summer after spending two years in Fresno.

McConville, 56, didn't watch the two-part Armstrong interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey last week. She already has learned enough through various media sources. Lance will say he doped. Lance will say he is sorry. Lance will say he is flawed. Lance won't go into details and McConville, whose daughters went to high school at Piner and Santa Rosa, didn't care about the details.

"It's really disturbing, him lying about all this," McConville said. "It's heartbreaking. This is so upsetting to me."

Speaking by phone from Fresno, McConville's voice rose when asked specifically what most irritated her.

"He's standing up there," said McConville, referring to an awards podium, "and saying in so many words, &‘Look at the golden boy! Nothing can touch me!'"

That's what tweaks McConville more than anything — Armstrong's unabashed display of bravado, as if cancer was another opponent he waxed going up the Alpe d'Huez. Each day was an all-comers event for Armstrong: Come one, come all, and I'll beat all of ya, including those who accuse me of doping.

"If I could say something to him," McConville said, "it would be this: &‘You really hurt a lot of cancer patients with all your lies.'"

In the '90s, McConville and her husband were stationed in Germany, she as a dental assistant in the Air Force, Michael as an Arabic linguist in the Army. She said the highlight of their stay there was lining up along the roads of the Tour de France route, cheering Armstrong.

"He was the All-American hero," McConville said.

And now?

"I am just ashamed of him," she said. "Armstrong coming out with the truth right now is too late. I cannot stand to even look at a picture of Lance Armstrong."

Because of the nature of the disease — targeting money to be used in cancer research, as opposed to working, for example, on a cure for turf toe — Armstrong had a built-in intimacy with his donors.

When McConville was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1994, it took 3? years of treatment at UC San Francisco Medical Center before she was cured. In 2010, McConville was diagnosed and treated for melanoma. Such experiences are imprinted permanently.

"There is no easy cancer," McConville said. That's why Armstrong's doping feels like a personal betrayal to her. At her most vulnerable, she saw Armstrong as a knight in shining armor, a strong-willed advocate, his intensity almost carrying a cure in and of itself.

And now?

"I wonder if he got (testicular) cancer from all the drugs he was taking," McConville said.

Who knows? She doesn't. She doesn't trust him to be truthful.

In the peeling back of layer upon layer of Armstrong's life, in search of the truth, no question appears too absurd. McConville knows it is such an ugly thought. Then again, this is an ugly situation, leading to even uglier questions.

Did Armstrong use cancer as a shield from criticism and questions about doping?

"I do feel the money he earned was dirty money," McConville said. "I wish he would get jail time for this."

McConville, for one, acknowledged and appreciated whatever influence Armstrong had on donations. On the "Livestrong" website, the organization claims $470 million has been raised since 1997. How much of that resulted from Armstrong's tireless efforts? Again, who knows?

But it was most certainly a result of Armstrong's winning seven consecutive Tours.

Or to put it another way: Would $470 million still be in the "Livestrong" bank if Armstrong never won a Tour, never made the podium and finished no higher than 10th in the Tour? Only the most na?e would say yes.

McConville is no longer na?e. She will not give Armstrong a free pass because he helped raise money for cancer research.

He did it fraudulently. He did it on the backs of chemists and teammates and riders he bullied. He did it by deception. While the money itself is not stained, the means of its collection are and McConville will never forget.

"I just wish he would move out of the country," she said.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.