Olympics

Olympic swimmer Nathan Adrian aims to destigmatize testicular cancer

Olympics

While Bremerton, Washington native Nathan Adrian has swum at three different Olympic Games and earned eight medals, other countries are not the sole speedbump he's had to overcome to achieve those accolades.

Adrian was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 30-years old in early 2019 while preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympics and detailed his battle in the latest episode of My Favorite Olympian from NBC Sports. 

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After noticing his testicle underwent swelling and hardness which failed to get better, the Public Health major went to the doctor who confirmed the worst. 

"We did the ultrasound. It's a mass, it’s vascularized, which is doctor-speak for 'it's cancer,'" recalls Adrian.

"Basically, once that happens, just everything else stops mattering."

Adrian had watched Eric Shanteau, who won an Olympic swimming gold medal in 2012 after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, struggle through chemotherapy so the Washington native wanted to exhaust all surgical options before going that route.

 

"It was like, man, just like if I have one recommendation, it's try not to have chemo," Adrian said, remembering Shanteau's advice. "I mean, he's one of the toughest guys I know. And he was like, man, I could hardly climb stairs. So that was when I took it pretty seriously. Like, I want to exhaust all surgical options because I'm just I'm healthy, I can bounce back from surgery relatively quickly. And that's what we did."

Thankfully for Adrian, only two surgeries were required, one to remove his entire left testicle and another to remove about 30 lymph nodes. The surgeries did leave him infertile but he had visited a fertitlity clinic shortly after the initial diagnosis of cancer.

"We made sure we had some specimens that were frozen in case we had to go through chemotherapy, because if you go through chemotherapy, they want you to wait a full year before trying to have kids,” Adrian explained. “And sometimes that ability to have kids naturally does not actually come back. So it was scary because, you know, having kids was our plan."

Thanks to him thinking ahead, he and his wife Hallie welcomed their first child, Parker, less than two years after his diagnosis. 

The five-time Gold Medalist hopes that sharing his diagnosis would help save someone's life. He had hidden shoulder surgery from the press before to not allow any excuses for a poor race brim up to the surface, but this was different.

"If I can come out and just prevent at least one case of that happening, then, you know, I would be happy to do it," he said.

Dr. Mark Litwin, a professor and chair of Urology at UCLA, believes he did just that.

"I'm quite sure he has by doing that, saved men's lives, literally saved men's lives, who did an examination in the shower that night said, wow, I think I feel something abnormal, went to a doctor and got treated and most likely cured. This is very valuable for men's health."

Adrian acknowledges the lack of urgency in men seeking medical help, especially with regards to their private area, but urges people get checked out sooner than later because it can save your life.

"I noticed it, I waited a week to check if it was going to fix itself basically, it didn't. And then I went to see a doctor. That's not a typical story, especially with testicular cancer," said Adrian.

 

"We have this idea of masculinity and having, you know…there’s this well written article or a peer reviewed journal talking about how men connect masculinity to properly functioning genitals, and if you have something wrong down there, you just want to deny it. You don't go to the doctor and ultimately save your life because of it.

"No level of pride, should stop you from going to the doctor to check it out."

You can listen to the full episode here.