Lance Armstrong still an American hero

We found out my mom had a cancerous tumor during the week after Christmas in 2006.

The first thing I did was buy her a book by Lance Armstrong. I figured there was no better person to turn to when it comes to inspiration for fighting that nasty disease.

Armstrong, after all, basically went from his deathbed to the podium of the Tour de France seven years in a row. If that doesn’t inspire you, nothing will.

Sure, from the beginning I figured there was merit behind the French cries that Armstrong was a doper and a cheater. Since so many of their riders cheated, you’d almost have to cheat to beat them. That’s what I assumed their logic was.

I always kind of hoped Armstrong was clean, but I really didn’t worry about it. His story was a great one no matter what.

It turns out I was right about the assumption that every cyclist in the world’s biggest race doped in some fashion since so many of Armstrong’s teammates said so as they saved themselves and testified against the greatest cyclist of our lifetime.

Probably without exception, all of the riders of the Lance Armstrong era doped and took performance-enhancing drugs.

My reaction to that is to shrug my shoulders.

It seems to me that the playing field was level, and Armstrong beat them all. Badly. Seven years in a row. Say what you want, that is pretty darn impressive.

It’s even more impressive if you consider what Armstrong overcame to get to the top of the mountain.

In 1996, the 25-year-old Armstrong was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer. The cancer spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain, and doctors told him he only had a 40 percent chance to live.

He had a testicle removed and he underwent chemotherapy to save his life.

That he even got on a bike again at all was huge upset.

Three years later, he was kicking everybody’s butt so bad at the Tour de France that people assumed he had to be cheating to beat all those cheaters.

Had his name been French, however, no such allegations would have ever been uttered.

Now some former teammates of Armstrong have come forward to confirm those suspicions. Like everyone else, they say, Armstrong doped and took performance-enhancing drugs.

Armstrong’s former teammates — and supposed friends — were given a slap on the wrist in the form of a six-month suspension and some stripped titles in exchange for testimony against the seven-time Tour de France champ.

Some might lose Olympic medals they never really cared about in the first place.

Those suspensions, by the way, come during the six months when there really aren’t any big races.

Those testimonials came along with confessions that they cheated, too. For some reason, though, the U.S. Anit-Doping Agency only cared about Armstrong.

It’s just like when the federal government singled out Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens as if they were the only steroid users in baseball. Call it selective prosecution or call it a witch hunt, it simply is not fair.

It is also borderline treason to attack an American treasure. At least it should be.

As anyone who has battled cancer or had the disease affect anyone close to them can tell you, those seven consecutive Tour titles aren’t even close to Armstrong’s most impressive victory.

In 1997, Armstrong founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation to help others beat the disease. Or at least it gave them some help as they tried. The sales of those yellow Livestrong bracelets raised more than $325 million for the cause, which is “to inspire and empower” cancer survivors and their families.

Look at all the other causes that followed Livestrong with the bracelets. Look at all the money they raised for Mariah’s Challenge and Zach Bunney’s cancer fund.

There’s no way to tell how many lives Armstrong helped save. There’s no way to measure the inspiration he gave to that little boy in the hospital bed battling leukemia or that mother of three fighting breast cancer.

My mom read the book as she kicked cancer to the curb, Lance Armstrong-style.

So many others did the same and will continue to do so for years to come.

Never has there been an athlete who has impacted the lives of everyday Americans like Lance Armstrong.

Not Babe Ruth. Not Michael Jordan. Not Walter Payton.

Armstrong is and always will be a true American hero. He’s a hero for all mankind.

No amount of doping evidence will ever change that.

Neither will the testimony of a few of rats.

— Sportswriter Bill Foley, who’d like to think that he’d go to prison before he’d rat on a friend, writes a column that will appear in every Tuesday.