AUSTIN, Texas -- Lance Armstrong said he has been through a "difficult couple of weeks" and urged supporters of his cancer-fighting charity to stand behind its mission.
"The mission is bigger than me. It’s bigger than any individual," Armstrong said Friday night in his opening remarks at Livestrong’s 15th anniversary celebration.
Armstrong has been turned into an outcast in professional cycling and most of his personal sponsors dropped him this week after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a massive report detailing performance-enhancing drug use by the seven-time Tour de France winner. USADA has ordered him banned from cycling for life and stripped of his Tour de France victories.
Armstrong, who denies doping, didn’t address the USADA report or the doping charges in his remarks. Instead, he focused on the mission of the foundation he started in 1997. Armstrong was diagnosed in 1996 with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain.
"I am ... truly humbled by your support," Armstrong said after receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,700. "It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for me and my family, my friends and this foundation."
Armstrong said he’s been asked many times how he is doing.
"I say, ‘I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse,"’ said Armstrong, making his first public appearance since the USADA report was released last week.
On Monday, the International Cycling Union is expected to announce whether it will appeal USADA’s sanctions.
The celebration gala came two days after Armstrong stepped down as chairman of Livestrong to help shield the charity from the fallout of the controversy swirling around him. He remains on the board of directors.
New chairman Jeff Garvey told the crowd he and Armstrong have made each other mad at times working together, "but he never let me down. He still hasn’t."
Armstrong urged the crowd to continue fighting to help cancer patients and survivors.
"There’s 28 million people around the world living with this disease," Armstrong said. "Thank you for your support."
Livestrong officials expected to raise $2.5 million from the event, which included appearances by actors Sean Penn and Robin Williams and singer Norah Jones.
Armstrong won the Tour de France every year from 1999-2005 and his success on the bike helped propel the foundation into one of the most popular and well-known charities in the country. Livestrong has raised about $500 million in the fight against cancer.
In 2004, the foundation introduced the yellow "Livestrong" bracelets, selling more than 80 million and creating a global symbol for cancer awareness and survival.
The silent auction included two Trek bicycles valued up to $12,000 -- Trek was one of the companies that dropped Armstrong as a sponsor on Wednesday—and seven autographed yellow jerseys Armstrong wore on the podium during his Tour de France victories.
Gerry Goldstein, a criminal defense attorney and friend of Armstrong for several years, criticized USADA’s investigation and sanctions of Armstrong.
Drug testers never caught Armstrong when he was competing, Goldstein said.
"I’m a big fan of what he has done. Overcoming cancer and doing what he did, who gives a (expletive) about anything else? That’s so much more important as a role model and a human being," Goldstein said. "Quit whining about it."
Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who donated a pair of cleats to the silent auction, said he wants to continue supporting Livestrong.
"Obviously, some things have a left a little scar, but people think it’s still important to come out and support Livestrong," Guthrie said.
The charity has worked hard to separate its mission of fighting cancer from Armstrong’s troubles, said Doug Ulman, Livestrong president and chief executive.
Although Armstrong lost many of his personal sponsorship contracts, Nike, Anheuser-Busch and others who said they were terminating their contracts or would not renew them because of the doping evidence, said they would keep supporting Livestrong.
"We’re proud of our history and we’re excited to celebrate. We’ve heard from so many grass-roots supporters, program partners, corporate partners and a lot of them are doubling down, saying they are going to come back even stronger in 2013," Ulman said.