July 15th, 2008
11:07 AM ET

An unimaginable decision

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Chief Medical Correspondent


Over the past few days, many people have asked me about swimmer Eric Shanteau. As you may know by now, he secured a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. He told us he has in one way or another been training his entire life, so when he qualified, you can imagine the overwhelming emotion.  It was the highest point of his life, but it was darkened by the lowest. Cancer. Just as he was booking his tickets to the Olympic trials, he learned he had testicular cancer. For Shanteau, it was decision time: the Olympics or immediate treatment.


He chose the Olympics, a decision that has been controversial and surprised many people. As we investigated and spoke to doctors who specialize in this type of cancer, we learned that most of them were comfortable with his decision to wait. Make no mistake; there are some cancers that require immediate treatment. With early stage testicular cancer, however, you can afford to wait a few weeks or even a couple of months. In the case of Shanteau, he will get a blood test every week and a CT scan every two weeks. He tells us, if there is a blip on his tests, the Olympics go to the back burner and his cancer treatment starts.


Perhaps the most famous cancer survivor in the world, Lance Armstrong, learned of his illness when it was late stage. In Lance’s case, the cancer had spread to his lungs and his brain. It was after his treatment that Lance went on to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times. Lance told me he will be rooting for Eric and applauds his decision to compete and his bravery in sharing his story. Armstrong also said something that really struck me: “Eric will swim like a man possessed, because he’s been reminded of how fragile his life – and our life –is.”


So, do you agree with Shanteau’s decision? Would you wait or not take any chances? Would that change if you were counseling a loved one or were Eric’s parent?


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.