Meredith Land, NBC 5 News
In an exclusive interview Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman talks about the changes he's made after the resigntation of the cancer-fighting charity's founder Lance Armstrong.
For 15 years the mission at Livestrong has been to wipe out cancer, but with the resignation of its founder, cyclist Lance Armstrong, the charity is fighting to survive.
NBC 5 was allowed exclusive access inside the cancer-fighting organization and talked to Livestrong's CEO Doug Ulman about Armstrong and his doping confession.
First we wanted to know if Armstrong is still welcome at Livestrong. "He was here last month when he spoke to our staff and he's been traveling quite a bit, so I haven't seen him here," Ulman said.
The foundation, known today simply as Livestrong, was once The Lance Armstrong Foundation. Today, very little of Armstrong remains at the Austin-based headquarters.
"The only change that was made to our building was the yellow jerseys that were moved for our 15th year anniversary logo that we put on the wall," Ulman said.
But Ulman says Armstrong's name will remain on the Founder's wall. "We're not going to rewrite history. At a very young age, he was faced with a life-threatening illness and he came through that and decided at that time, before he ever had notoriety and fame, to start an organization to help people. Those are the facts."
Ulman makes it clear that it is time to move on. "We owe it to the people who have invested in the mission to grow what we do, not retreat. Actually double down and go forward with more vigor and resolve than we've ever had," Ulman said.
Ulman knows how to fight. He has guided Livestrong for 12 years and he is a cancer survivor himself. Ulman says donations are strong and that big sponsors, like Nike, who severed all ties with Armstrong, re-signed with Livestrong.
"They've always been invested in the mission and have always wanted us to achieve our goals, so their re-commitment is important to all of us and we're grateful and we've had other partners step up as well," Ulman said.
Some of Livestrong's employees still have Lance Armstrong's picture and books on their desks. The best therapy, most say, has been staying focused on the cancer patients who come here for help.
People like Iram Leon, who is battling brain cancer and says free counseling here has helped him accept his diagnosis.
"All of a sudden, realizing you might be dying soon is much bigger than just, 'hey, how do I pay the bills?'" Leon said.
Leon still wears his Livestrong bracelet. "This was never about the guy on the bike," he said.
Cecile Hollyfield is battling breast cancer. She uses Livestrong's free transportation program to get to and from chemotherapy treatments. "I simply wouldn't be able to get to treatment without Livestrong. I don't know how I would."
When asked about her thoughts on the Armstrong scandal, Hollyfield said, "I hope that when the song and dance dies down, in 20 years, 50 years, the man is remembered for one shining, golden idea that he had, that helped thousands of people continue their lives or end them in dignity."
Ulman said he's not sure Livestrong needs a celebrity front man. "I don't know. As you said, our country is always sort of, onto the next thing or next person or next story. For us, we just have to stay focused on the mission."
The man on the bike may be gone, but Ulman says the cause is too important to quit. "Our mission will survive, actually it will thrive in the long run," he said.
In Livestrong's 15 years, it's raised $500 million and helped 2.5 million people affected by cancer. All services are free of charge and offered in English or Spanish.