Olympic Swimmer Nathan Adrian Opens Up About the Emotional Rollercoaster of His Cancer Diagnosis

Olympic swimmer Nathan Adrian has been a professional athlete for nearly 10 years. He studied public health at the University of California Berkeley (where he won five national titles) and grew up in a family of medical professionals — all of which helped him develop a heightened sense of body awareness.

So when the eight-time Olympic medalist, 30, felt some pain in his genital area earlier this year, he started monitoring it closely. Over the next few weeks, his symptoms didn’t let up. So Adrian wasted no time making a doctor’s appointment.

He was hit with the devastating news of a testicular cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, he caught the disease at an early stage. Had he waited a couple more months or even weeks to see a physician, Adrian tells PEOPLE, “that could’ve been disastrous for me.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, testicular cancer is a rare but highly treatable condition that usually affects American males between the ages of 15 and 35 but can occur at any time.

He announced the diagnosis on Instagram and Twitter on January 24 in a post that started with the perfect swimming analogy: “Life, like swimming the 100 free, can come at you hard and fast as you can’t always see who, or what, may be chasing you down.”


Over the course of the next few months, Adrian documented everything on social media, including multiple surgeries and health updates, his fitness journey, and most recently, his much-anticipated return to the pool at the Tyr Pro Swim Series in Bloomington, Indiana, earlier this month.

Ahead of his Make a Splash promotional tour (a USA Swimming Foundation initiative to encourage water safety for children), Adrian tells PEOPLE about why he chose to share his personal health with the world. He says he wants to help break the stigma surrounding men’s health issues, which became very apparent after his diagnosis.

“I called up a lot of urologist and almost every single one of them had tons of stories about people just waiting (to see a doctor) because it’s not something that’s necessarily painful,” he tells PEOPLE.

RELATED: Erich Bergen Reveals Testicular Cancer Battle: ‘Men Are Dying Because They Don’t Want Someone Looking at Their Junk’

Adrian says that, if sharing his story encourages just one person to get checked a little bit earlier or prevents one person from having to endure chemotherapy, “then my shame means nothing.”

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After he announced his diagnosis, Adrian says a friend shared an eye-opening article with him that shed light on why men often wait to seek treatment until it’s too late.

“One of the reasons is that they connect masculinity with properly functioning genitals,” Adrian tells PEOPLE. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s totally true.’ “

Today, Adrian is in the post-cancer phase. He has no evidence of ongoing disease, and his training schedule is slowly but surely getting back to normal. Still, he says “scan-xiety is a real thing.”

“We have to be on this close surveillance protocol because it could come back,” Adrian says. “My journey with this is not over. It’s finally nice to hear good things from the doctors because that’s always a scary call to answer. I know when a random 401 number calls me, I pick it up right away. I’m still very much in it.”

Aside from having tremendous support from friends and family — especially his wife of two years, Hallie Ivester, and the entire USA Swimming Foundation community — finding other passions aside from training and competing was an essential part of his recovery.

For Adrian, Make a Splash was the perfect outlet to keep him feeling as normal as possible amid the diagnosis, something he says is important for any cancer patient to find.

Adrian gives swim lessons in partnership with Make a Splash
Adrian gives swim lessons in partnership with Make a Splash

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 people drown every day in the United States. Formal swim lessons reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning by a staggering 88 percent, according to Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

While managing his health and getting back into a training schedule, Adrian is determined to spread awareness about drowning and make children safer in and around water through Make a Splash.