SEATTLE – On Wednesday, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong resigned as chairman from the very cancer fighting organization he founded: Texas-based Livestrong.
The question: Will the organization, which has raised a half billion dollars, most for cancer charities, lose donors because Livestrong is so closely identified with one man?
The broader question is not without precedent. In February, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which supports breast cancer research, lost significant support on political grounds after some in its leadership considered dropping funding for Planned Parenthood over abortion. A spokesman for its Seattle chapter said donations dropped more than 30 percent, but that the charity is now rebuilding its base.
“There will be an initial hit for sure,” said Marlene Diskin, Development Director for Gilda’s Club of Seattle, a cancer survivorship organization which has received funding support from Livestrong in the past.
Gilda’s provides free help for all sorts of people fighting all kinds of cancer. The organization is named for Gilda Radner, the late star of Saturday Night Live who succumbed to Ovarian Cancer at the age of 42.
“How much they can come back from that, I don’t know,” said Diskin, whose knows her way around fundraising. That’s her job, and she’s done similar work for other charitable organizations.
“To spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship,” Armstrong had said in a statement posted on Livestrong’s website.
But Diskin, who lost both parents to lung cancer, fears more than dollars will be lost. Armstrong wasn’t just some celebrity pitch man brought on board to raise the profile of a charitable organization. He was a survivor of testicular cancer that spread to his lung and brain, and that is not in dispute.
“We hear over and over in the cancer world how he’s helped people because they have hope,” said Diskin. “If he can do it, maybe I can do it too, and that’s going to be a big loss.”
Diskin met Armstrong about six years ago at a fund raiser.
“It was exciting,” she said. But she makes no secret of her disappointment in Armstrong as allegations against the cyclist piled up.
While he continues to maintain his innocence against allegations of doping in winning the Tour de France seven times, he had dropped his fight to keep his titles in the face of a report out last week by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which publicly released a mountain of evidence it says proved Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs to win his races.
Among other donations, in 2006 Livestrong provided $1.7 million in funding to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle to establish a survivorship program helping patients. The Center says it is no longer receiving any money from Livestrong.