Miracle Man

Lance Armstrong Wants To Be Seen As Cycling Champion And Survivor

Next weekend, Lance Armstrong will get on his bicycle and begin his last big race. He will be trying to win the Tour de France for the seventh-straight time, something no one has ever done before.

If there were nothing else to his story, he would still be counted as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

But there's a lot more to his story. In fact, nine years ago, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his lung and brain, it looked like his story was over.

But he survived, and after multiple surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy, he started riding his bike again.

In 1999, he won the Tour de France. It was after that first remarkable victory that Correspondent Bob Simon spent time with him in France and his native Texas.

60 Minutes met up with him right after he crashed headfirst into a wall while plummeting down the Pyrenees. Armstrong may be the miracle man of modern sport. But he's lucky to be alive.

Nine years ago, Armstrong was America's best cyclist and wasn't terribly modest about it. He was brash. He was invincible.

Then, one day he didn't feel so good. He had severe headaches, blurry vision and was coughing up blood. One testicle puffed up to the size of a good-sized lemon, he says.

Armstrong finally went to see a doctor in his hometown of Austin, Texas. The doctor wanted an X-ray of his chest.

The doctor found out that Armstrong had testicular cancer, which had spread to his abdomen. But he didn't know how sick he was on Oct. 8, 1996.

"Most worrisome is that he had two areas on his brain that were obvious cancer," says Dr. Craig Nichols, Armstrong's oncologist, who says that if Armstrong had not seen a doctor that day, he would have had only weeks to live.

The testicle was removed. And soon the brain tumors had to be as well.

"I was scared because I didn't know anything about it," says Armstrong. "I didn't know whether I was going to live or die. I didn't really know what my chances were."

His doctors at Indiana University Hospital thought his chances for survival were less than 50 percent. But they didn't tell Armstrong.

Did Armstrong think he was going to die? "Sometimes," he says. "But not, not for long. I think I had to, it would have been stupid not to think about it."

"Before he was gonna have his brain surgery, there was a point that I thought I might be going to Lance's funeral," said Chris Carmichael, Armstrong's coach.

Doctors operated for hours on Armstrong's brain. Then he underwent four grueling cycles of chemotherapy.

Armstrong's mother, Linda, was there when the treatment began. "There wasn't a night that didn't go by that I'd go back to my room and cry buckets of tears. You know, 'Why him? Why not me?'"

"Whatever I do in cycling, or whatever I do in the Tour de France, or whatever I do in training, I'll never suffer like I did then," says Armstrong.

The chemotherapy was administered in cycles: one week on, two weeks off.

So what did Armstrong do when he wasn't feeling nauseous, when he could get out of bed? He rode his bike.

"One day, we're out riding on this pretty good hill," recalls Armstrong. "And a lady came up on me. She must have been in her 40s, maybe early 50s, not a very nice bike, right past me, Voom! And I thought, 'This is not happening.' Gave it a little effort, a little surge to try (to) stay with her. Couldn't catch her."

Like every professional cyclist, Armstrong belonged to a team. His was based in France. When Armstrong was in his last phase of chemotherapy, his lowest point, the team managers came to his hospital room.

They were there to cheer him up, Armstrong thought. Instead, they had come to cut his salary by 80 percent. Soon, he was dropped from the team.

But in December 1996, test results showed Armstrong's cancer was in remission. He said that he is alive because of "good doctors, good medicine, good technology. Twenty years ago, I would've been dead."

By 1997, Armstrong thought he was ready to race. He paid a visit to the Tour de France, where there were many pats on the back, but no contract offers. No one wanted a cancer survivor.