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Lance Armstrong Foundation boss on beating cancer three times

Doug Ulman recovered from cancer three times. He has since run a 100-mile race in the Himalayas.
Doug Ulman recovered from cancer three times. He has since run a 100-mile race in the Himalayas.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Doug Ulman is president of the Lance Armstrong Foundation
  • Ulman had cancer three times between the ages of 19 and 20
  • He has since run marathons, including a 100-mile run in the Himalayas
  • He went on to found the Ulman Cancer fund for Young Adults
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(CNN) -- At 32 years old Doug Ulman is president of cancer-support charity the Lance Armstrong Foundation. He has also survived three separate cases of cancer.

In August 1996, Ulman was a 19-year-old college soccer player when a CAT scan revealed a shadow behind his heart.

Doctors said there was only a slim chance he had cancer, but he needed surgery. During the operation, Ulman had an allergic reaction to the morphine he was being given as a painkiller, meaning he had to finish the surgery without any pain relief.

He made it through the surgery, but two weeks later Ulman was told he had chondrosarcoma -- a bone cancer that develops in cartilage.

"Doctors started talking about 'we need to go in and take out part of your spine, and you may never walk again' -- things that were so drastic I couldn't even comprehend," Ulman told CNN.

"I went into a state of anger -- I just didn't know what to make of all of it. To have everything taken from you from a control perspective, to be a the mercy of others and to have to learn something you don't know anything about was really scary."

Supported by his parents, both of whom are themselves cancer survivors, Ulman recovered fully from the chondrosarcoma, but a few months later a mole on his chest was diagnosed as melanoma. Incredibly, three months later, Ulman was told he had a second melanoma.

"When you're 19, to have it [cancer] once is abnormal, but to go through this period between my 19th and 20th birthdays -- it's just not normal," he said

Doctors started talking about 'we need to go in and take out part of your spine, and you may never walk again.'
--Doug Ulman

"You're supposed to be in college, you're supposed to be out having fun. I'm supposed to be playing soccer and doing things I love and this was just interrupting my life. It was changing the course that I had imagined and what everybody had hoped for."

Ulman is now completely cancer free but knows he is at risk of having melanoma again.

His physical recovery has been so complete that he has managed to run numerous marathons, including a 100-mile run in the Himalayas, but he is careful to schedule his training runs early in the morning to protect himself from the sun.

Realizing there was a lack of support for young adults with cancer, Ulman and his family founded the Ulman Cancer fund for Young Adults, which provides education, support and resources to young adults with cancer and their families.

The foundation caught the notice of seven-times Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong and he enlisted Ulman to help run the Lance Armstrong Foundation. CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta is also a board member of the foundation.

Ulman says he now spends much of his time raising money and talking with cancer survivors and their families.

"It's incredibly beneficial to help other people," Ulman told CNN.

"You help yourself and it also allows us to focus on other people's experiences and try to help them as appose to dwelling on our own.

"I'm grateful for that, I've learned so much from so many people who have such a spirit and resiliency -- it's inspiring."