CARY, N.C. – As Andrew von Eschenbach talked with life science executives about the future of healthcare, the yellow band on his wrist also sent a message.

The head of the Food and Drug Administration is a cancer survivor. Yes, he knows bicyclist extraordinaire Lance Armstrong, thus the yellow band.

“Lance is a good friend,” von Eschenbach said. “We go back a long time.”

Like Armstrong, the commissioner campaigns hard to fight cancer. The fact that the urologic surgeon has beaten prostate cancer motivates him to seek improvements in healthcare from one of the most powerful positions in that world.

“To me, it’s very person-centric,” von Eschenbach said in an interview after his talk at a life science technology conference put on at SAS. “As a cancer survivor and patient, I understand the reality.

“It gives me focus and an intensity and a passion,” he added. But von Eschenbach said he was not alone in that attitude. “I think it’s something we all share. It is a core element of who I am and what I do.”

Cancer remains a deadly killer in so many forms, and prostate cancer is one of the deadliest. But von Eschenbach said his cancer “was caught early” and that he is “fine.”

As ironic as it seems, von Eschenbach has been forced to fight in his own body the very problems he was trained to battle in others. His connections to cancer aren’t limited to the prostate battle either.

A former director of the national Cancer Institute, von Eachenbach pointed to more evidence of his own fight – he put a finger on his nose, noting that he had suffered from melanoma.

Labeled by Time magazine in 2006 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, von Eschenbach directs the agency that is responsible for regulating new drug and medical device advances. And the commissioner, who earned a medical degree at Georgetown, said he is committed to helping others.

“People are dependant upon us to protect them from bad things happening,” he said.

As a doctor, cancer survivor and head of the FDA, von Eschenbach pointed out that he and the FDA are “all about taking care of patients, taking care of other people. The FDA is there to promote better healthcare and to protect every single person from the drugs we take to the food we eat.”

The FDA has taken a great deal of criticism in recent years, including a slow drug approval process. But at the top of the organization sits a man who knows the agony cancer can create both mentally and physically. He talks passionately about the needed changes in healthcare from his own organization to the private sector. And the wristband shows that he’s serious about the cause he leads.