AFTER A CANCER DIAGNOSIS, OLYMPIAN NATHAN ADRIAN FOCUSES ON MEN'S HEALTH
WHEN SWIMMER Nathan Adrian, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, hit SHARE on a 226-word Instagram post in late January, announcing his recent testicular cancer diagnosis, he was prepared for responses. But even he admits the outpouring of support was overwhelming. Countless men told him they'd get checked out. Moms of young survivors thanked him for speaking out publicly. His comments section was flooded with thousands of messages of encouragement. He even received a heartfelt text from Lance Armstrong, the famed and infamous cyclist and testicular cancer survivor.
But the most meaningful outreach came from within the tight-knit swimming community. His teammates from the 2008, '12 and '16 Olympic team messaged him. Katie Ledecky sent a card. And Eric Shanteau, who was diagnosed with Stage 1 testicular cancer just a week before the 2008 Olympic trials and went on to compete at the Summer Games in Beijing, became a welcome sounding board and offered Adrian perspective.
"Eric said to me, 'I had one of the best meets of my life about four or five months after my tumor removal,'" the 30-year-old Adrian says. "I was like, O.K. That's the light at the end of the tunnel. That gives you something to strive for. That makes the process a lot easier to digest."
Adrian recalls feeling stiffness and swelling in his lower body in late December, and when symptoms did not improve after a couple of weeks, he saw a doctor. Since testicular cancer is very treatable (the five-year relative survival rate is 95%) and his was detected early, Adrian got a positive prognosis. Doctors scheduled two surgeries to remove lymph nodes to prevent a possible cancer spread, and he has not needed to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.
The treatment, Adrian says, "wasn't fun," but he wanted to make his experience as positive as he could. After having conversations with urologists, he built up the confidence to go public, in hopes of raising awareness for men's health issues and inspiring more people to get checked out. "I've realized that too often ... we tend to ignore the potential warning signs and put off getting the medical help that we may need," he wrote in his post.
"If I could help someone else do the same thing, that's what's worth it," Adrian says now. "There's no harm in talking about it for me. I feel that there's only good that can come from it."
By early February, Adrian was back in the gym, targeting his fourth Olympics, next summer in Tokyo. Though he has not competed since his cancer diagnosis, he is planning to swim at July's world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, and then the Pan Am Games in Lima.
"For me, at this point, I do have some gold medals, but I still want to achieve more," Adrian says. "It is still the journey. It's coming back from cancer. It's figuring out how to go as fast as I did before. If you get too wrapped up in the end goal, that's when you get overwhelmed. It's a day at a time."