(CBS News) The Livestrong Foundation and disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong have parted ways after years of being thought of almost as one. So why is the cancer survivor group under fire from critics, including some who once were within its ranks? Our Cover Story is reported by Sharyl Attkisson:
With his stunning admission of doping, it became clear that Lance Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories weren't as inspiring as people thought.
Some are now saying the same about the world-famous cancer charity he founded, Livestrong.
"It's like when you find out there is no Santa Claus, along those lines, you know?" said Michael Birdsong, who is part of a lawsuit being prepared on behalf of donors planning to sue to get their money back.
Armstrong started Livestrong in 1997 after doctors successfully treated his testicular cancer.
Fueled by his comeback story, Livestrong grew into a highly-rated charity -- and millions wanted to be seen wearing Livestrong's distinctive yellow wristbands.
"I will be, I hope -- and I want to be -- known as the cancer survivor," Armstrong said.
The charity has raised over a half-billion dollars, much of it from people like Birdsong. An avid cyclist himself, he was drawn to Livestrong after his in-laws died of cancer and his wife battled the disease.
Birdsong estimates he gave around $50,000.
He says he got a firsthand look at how the charity was run when he became an official Livestrong Challenge volunteer "mentor," bringing in an additional $65,000 from friends and family.
"I thought a lot of it was actually going to these cutting-edge research mini-grants, you know, to help these promising studies that were going on," he told Attkisson.
Livestrong says Birdsong was well-acquainted with the group's mission. But Birdsong says when he first got involved, he had no idea that Livestrong had decided early on to phase out investments in scientific cancer research.
While there are people who may think that Livestrong is a cancer research foundation, Katherine McLane (who heads communications for the charity) says it is "a little frustrating" to the organization.
"It sort of mischaracterizes what everyone in this building does," she told Attkisson. "We're not sending money to labs to fund research, although we recognize that is tremendously important."
Now, Livestrong needs to find an identity, and a path forward -- as a cancer charity that doesn't fund cancer research -- and without its founder, who is no longer affiliated with the organization.
But earlier this year, then-executive vice president Andy Miller spoke at Livestrong's first annual meeting without Lance Armstrong.
"Will the Livestrong Foundation survive? Yes, absolutely yes!" Miller said to applause.
"It's a challenge, but it's also an opportunity," said McLane. "We have to turn the page. We have to reintroduce ourselves to donors, to survivors, and to patients to reassure them that we're not hunkering down, we're doubling down on our commitment to them."
So, where does all of Livestrong's money go? And what is the mission, if not cancer research?
McLane says the charity's mission is to help cancer survivors, with programs that have improved the lives of 2.5 million people.
"What we began investing in, instead of clinical research, was an ongoing dialogue with patients, with survivors, with their families, to gauge the long-term effects that cancer takes on a family and on one's livelihood and on one's psyche, on one's body," said McLane.
Livestrong offers free advice, counseling and referral services.
"We specialize in breaking down any barrier that a family or an individual has to getting treatment," she said.
At the charity's Austin headquarters, there's a brand new transportation program for patients. McLane says Livestrong developed a pilot recently that recruits volunteers to help patients without access to a car get to their chemo appointments.
The charity also gives out grants -- to help fund conferences and a nationwide network of summer camps, supporting the children of cancer patients.
But Birdsong says he saw a lot of money going out the door for questionable expenses.
"When did you start to have doubts about what the foundation was doing and where the money was going?" asked Attkisson.
"Oddly enough, when I was starting to work with them, officially mid-2007, 2008, these questions started popping up into my head," said Birdsong.