A Different Kind of Challenge

If you watch the CBS TV show The Amazing Race, you may recognize me as the winner of Season 24. But before I even began that incredible challenge, I had already endured another challenge—testicular cancer.

At the age of 19, I was living and racing in Europe with the USA National Cycling Team. Everything was great. The team was doing well and I was enjoying traveling and living abroad. But as time progressed, my performance started to decline. I started to get fatigued and I had some discomfort. I was frustrated and couldn’t understand what was happening.

Nonetheless I continued training and racing, sure that whatever was going on would resolve itself. But the discomfort turned into pain. I ultimately decided to return to the States and see a doctor. The last thing on earth I expected to hear was: You. Have. Cancer.

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It totally caught me off guard and didn’t feel real at first. In an instant I went from this bulletproof 19-year-old kid to meeting with doctors, scheduling surgery, and figuring out treatment options. I was absolutely shocked. I had no idea I was even susceptible to this disease at such a young age.

I quickly had surgery, and with elevated tumor markers and signs of the disease spreading, I started three rounds of chemotherapy shorty thereafter.

The infusion room at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) became my new best friend. For seven hours a day, five days a week, I would watch the chemo drip into my port.

It wasn’t until the second week of chemo that it really sunk in that I was sick. I woke up one morning, looked into the mirror, scratched my head, and watched as a clump of hair fell into the sink. My mom, who was standing in the doorway, broke down and cried. It was real. I was sick. I was a cancer patient.

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It was an incredibly hard few months, but those months taught me a lot about myself. As cliché as it sounds, it really put my life into perspective. It wasn’t easy, but through hard work, determination, and a new outlook on life, I eventually got back to the top of professional cycling, as well as other endeavors like the The Amazing Race. I am now living a full and healthy life. I feel extremely blessed to have had the support system of friends and family, world-class nurses, and an incredible facility like HCI to help me endure my cancer experience.

My story is all too common. We have young men diagnosed daily that are oblivious to the disease. To see that men are dying every single day from a disease that is highly curable is frustrating and heartbreaking. I very well could have been one of those statistics and I feel lucky I went to the doctor when I did.

I am grateful to be on the other side of the disease working hard as an advocate with the Testicular Cancer Foundation. Having the opportunity to work every day with survivors, patients, caregivers, and the public is humbling and incredibly rewarding. We need to increase awareness. We need to let young men know that they should know their own bodies and be aware of testicular cancer symptoms. We need to tell them how important it is to see a doctor every year for a routine physical exam or to make an appointment right away if they are concerned about something. It could just save their life.

To learn more about testicular cancer, visit HCI’s website or contact the Cancer Learning Center. You can read more about Connor’s adventures on his website, The O’Leary Theory.

 

Connor O’Leary

connor@tcancer.org