Q&A With Olympic Swimmer Nathan Adrian

My name is Nathan Adrian, age 30, and I am a 3x Olympian in Swimming and hope to compete at a fourth in Tokyo in 2020. I attended undergrad at UC Berkeley and majored in Public Health. That is one of the reasons that we decided to be as open and transparent about my diagnosis and treatment regarding testicular cancer as men's health is an underrepresented topic in society today. If by talking about my own journey we get a single male to see the doctor sooner rather than later and save themselves from extra treatment I would be happy.


1. How did you feel when you learned you had cancer? For me personally I went through a whirlwind of emotions all very quickly. They also would cycle back and forth in no particular order for a little while until I got a handle on what I felt was the right mindset regarding my situation. I will list a few just to try and illustrate it: Scared: This goes without saying of course. I think once any doctor tells you that you have cancer your reaction will include being scared. Scared for your own life, scared for your family, and scared for your spouse. Humans often times fear the unknown and when you are first diagnosed with cancer there is a LOT that is unknown (type, staging, etc)

Guilty: This is the one that surprised me the most. I would get an overwhelming sense of guilt regarding the burden of my disease on my family and my wife. It was all in my head of course as my family and wife were incredibly supportive and happy to do so but it doesn't mean that the feeling didn't exist.

Pensive: I think through my life I had always had a goal or objective, and I would work really hard to achieve it. Good grades in school? Study hard and ace the test. Swim fast? Train hard and treat my body right and hopefully swim fast. Getting a diagnosis like cancer was like a scene in the movies where they zoom out really far and you see the big picture. The only problem is, that you only see that there IS a big picture and all the information that makes up that big picture isn't abundantly clear. So to try and gain that clarity I ended up asking a ton of questions I didn't know the answers to. Have I been a good son to my parents? Have I been a good husband to my wife of four months? Have a been a good friend and teammate to those I swam with? Have I told everybody I love that I love them enough? I would get really caught up in deep questions that I hadn't really thought of before because I was constantly focusing on either swimming, school, or recently trying to be the best husband I could be. I am still yet to find the answer to these questions, however, I am grateful to be more acutely aware of them in my day-to-day life so that I can work to be able to definitively say yes to them eventually.

Ready: This was always a good feeling to have. It usually came after a doctor's appointment or in a moment of clarity where we knew what the plan was and what our next steps were. The scared/guilty stuff usually came in between tests or treatments or more than likely will come before some of my upcoming scans that I have as part of my surveillance regimen but the readiness part was all about knowing what had to be done and doing it. 2. What has helped you deal with cancer? I like to think I am an optimist at heart. I stayed pretty positive through the diagnosis/treatment. My wife and family of course were huge sources of support and help when I needed it. Whether it be emotional or physical it is really tough to go through this stuff alone.

3. How have you used humor and positivity to deal with your disease? Humor is how I have gotten through many of the tough times in my life. I think it is honestly a good way to distance yourself from the situation a little bit and give yourself a moment to laugh. Even if it is at your own expense. Through blogs like your own, I think it is also refreshing to hear perspectives from other people who have gone through something similar. Most of your "healthy" friends mean the absolute best and that is really nice, however, sometimes the right thing to do is to joke about it. 

4. What have you learned about being a young adult with cancer? I think I probably just sound like a broken record when I say that it can happen to anyone. Being healthy was quite literally my job. I would exercise anywhere from two to six hours a day. All of the newest and best fitness crazes are included in what I do. 

Heart rate zone work? Check 

Olympic lifting? Check 

High intensity interval work? Been doing it for years

That's not including all of the things I was doing to help myself recover (massage, ice baths, yoga, stretching, foam rolling, etc)

I think all of that is the reason why I feel so obligated to speak out about my situation and diagnosis because you can eat as healthy as you want but you can't 100 percent prevent cancer. You can, however, make sure you are informed on how to catch cancer early to make less impactful to your life.

5. What’s next for you in terms of your disease and in your sport? I am now on surveillance and training full-time. I have World Championships and Pan American Games coming up this winter.

6. What advice do you have for other young adults facing cancer? Don't be afraid to get second opinions. The best doctors in the world encourage it! Find something that helps make you feel normal. It may be cooking, cleaning, or maybe watching TV but for me it was getting back in to the pool and working out as quickly as possible. Nothing made me feel more normal and like myself than when I was working out with a goal in mind.

©2017 Humor Beats Cancer | Humor Beats Cancer is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit organization.

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