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Cancer survival a blessing for Solder

New England's left tackle overcomes adversity, strengthens faith.

It all happened so fast, he barely had time to process what the janitorial-looking radiologist bluntly told him.

"Yeah, looks like cancer," the man told Nate Solder before abruptly walking out the door.

Solder, the mammoth Patriots left tackle, was left momentarily stunned not so much by the strong pronouncement as the weak bedside manner.

It was almost a year ago to the day that Solder first noticed an abnormality on one of his testicles. A quick on-line search to a medical information website convinced Solder not to take any chances. He immediately notified his doctors about it during his next physical examination.

Two days later, he was having surgery, and two weeks later, he was back at Gillette Stadium taking part in the Patriots offseason strength and conditioning program.

He was scheduled to tie the knot with his sweetheart, Lexi, in May, and thankfully, the couple was able to proceed as planned with the nuptials.

He informed head coach Bill Belichick, who agreed to keep his situation under wraps at the time. Gradually, Solder began letting his teammates know what he'd experienced. Their initial reaction was laughter.

Nate Solder

"Because they didn't think I was serious. And I kind of have a joking manner about it," Solder acknowledged, "because I felt really confident in the doctors, that God had me in his hands. I was joking about it in a way that would take the pressure away from them. Because when you tell someone you have testicular cancer, it kind of puts pressure on them, how they're going to react."

His own reaction was muted. Solder, who just turned 27 this month, is precociously philosophical about surviving cancer at such a relatively young age.

"I did my best," he recalled, "not to do the whole self-pity deal, because people go through so much worse stuff, honestly. I told myself, 'Don't freak out. It's probably not that. Just get it checked out. It'll be fine.' It's not in my identity to be caught up in my ego. It was hard losing a body part, but it could have been any body part. The tradeoff was: severe cancer or just remove it. That was an easy choice for me to make.

"My main priority was just letting my family know I'm all right, getting back on the field, spending time with my wife. I didn't think it was the right time [to talk publicly about it]. And there was no rush… but I figured, the sooner the better with that."

Solder chose to wait till this offseason to collect his thoughts and not allow his personal struggle to become a topic that would overshadow his team during what wound up being a fourth Super Bowl title run.

"My teammates supported me and we moved on," he added. "It was great that we didn't have to talk about it. Let's just play football."

Though he still goes for regular checkups, Solder remains cancer-free and his wife is now pregnant with their first child.


And through the surgery, his recover, his wedding, his championship season, and his imminent fatherhood, Solder revealed he has become something else in the past year: a renewed Christian. He found his faith strengthened by the cancer ordeal, and chose to be baptized again because he felt like he was making a conscious decision to recommit his life to his religious beliefs.

"It happened so quickly," added Solder, "I had such a minor case, I had such good care with the doctors and trainers here, the fact that Lexi is such a strong person, we were able to weather the storm, and our faith through the whole deal was made stronger. It was such a blessing to have that."

Perhaps it was preordained from above for Solder – an otherwise healthy and high-profile young man – to undergo so profound a procedure. He knows he is in a position now to help other men who might be struggling with this potentially deadly disease.

"It can hit you if you don't expect it," is his primary message today. "In my case, I eat extremely healthy, I exercise constantly, I'm a professional athlete, I'm a young person, no indicators in my family history, no other indicators that would have made me think this was possible… and it happened to me. That makes me think everyone should get checked if they think they have any sort of question about it.

"I wouldn't be one to say why God does things," he laughed, "but I can see how I would be a good voice for people that are going through it or don't know if they're going through it, to spread awareness about the whole deal. It's not about me, though. I wouldn't have been able to do it without the doctors and the people that surrounded and supported me."

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