Canadian beach volleyball player's road to Tokyo detours with cancer scare

Donna Spencer
·4 min read

The COVID-19 virus has been good for Grant O'Gorman's health.

The global pandemic shutting down the professional beach volleyball tour in the spring led O'Gorman to discovering he had testicular cancer earlier than he might have done.

The 27-year-old from Toronto believes it's possible he would have ignored warning signs in his quest to represent Canada at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

O'Gorman and teammate Ben Saxton, a 2016 Olympian, were training in Los Angeles for their season-opening tournament in Mexico when the tour was suspended in March.

An ultrasound O'Gorman scheduled after returning home revealed testicular cancer. He underwent surgery to have his right testicle removed in May.

"Once Mexico was cancelled, I decided to come back home because of COVID and get the ultrasound," O'Gorman told The Canadian Press from Vancouver.

"Mexico being cancelled actually sped up about me finding out about this. I probably wouldn't have got the ultrasound for a while and tried to play in the Olympics and dealt with it after."

O'Gorman is using his experience to be an advocate for men's health.

He's fundraising, and growing a moustache, for the Movember charity that supports men diagnosed with testicular and prostate cancer, as well as those struggling with mental-health issues.

O'Gorman's father died of skin, and his mother of cervical cancer.

"I was depressed for three weeks after the surgery," O'Gorman said. "I lost motivation to train. I'm always super-motivated. It was a sad time. A very vulnerable time."

While competing at the 2019 world championship in Hamburg, Germany, O'Gorman's nipple was sore and noticeably enlarged under his shirt.

"I remember my nipple was hurting and getting a bit bigger," O'Gorman recalled. "A couple weeks later I squeezed it and some liquid came out. I knew that wasn't supposed to happen in males."

Because he didn't feel sick and a sore nipple didn't impede his ability to play volleyball, he admits he probably wouldn't have consulted a doctor if not for the urging of his fiancée Isabela Lima.

An ultrasound on his nipples didn't reveal disease, but blood tests showed such a high level of testosterone that doctors asked him if he was taking steroids.

"I was also experiencing a higher than normal sex drive," O'Gorman said. "And then they said I tested positive for pregnancy, like I had some of the hormones that pregnant women would have.

"So I was really out of whack."

A consultation with the national volleyball team's doctor in Toronto in January got him a referral to a Vancouver specialist, who in turn told O'Gorman have an ultrasound on his testicles.

He feels confident surgery eradicated the cancer. O'Gorman has chosen surveillance, with regular blood tests and ultrasounds, over radiation and chemotherapy.

"Chemo and radiation would get rid of everything, but it would also damage my body," O'Gorman explained. "Because I'm so young, I'd definitely feel the effects of that in 20 years."

O'Gorman urges men to be vigilant about testicular health.

"You've got to check them," he said. "Every month or so, a good place to check is in the shower under hot water. Check for lumps, change in size in shape or pain and if that happens go see a doctor."

O'Gorman and Saxton couldn't chase Olympic qualifying points this summer because the majority of tournaments were either cancelled or postponed.

They're the No. 2 men's beach duo in Canada and ranked 27th in the world, behind Canadians Sam Pedlow and Sam Schacter at No. 24.

O'Gorman is unsure what the qualifying process for Tokyo will look like given the pandemic's impact on travel and competition, but wants the chance to be an Olympian.

He says he works out at the gym up to six days a week. When weather permits, O'Gorman heads to Vancouver's Kitsilano Beach to play matches.

He and Saxton played in an exhibition King of the Court tournament in Utrecht, Netherlands, in September.

They competed with the word "Movember" on their board shorts.

"Me playing that tournament was a lot about showing myself I could come back and still compete at that level, and also raising awareness about men's health," O'Gorman said.

"I think my health always comes first. Now I play for something more than just myself and Canada. I play to inspire others and I play to spread awareness and it's not just volleyball any more."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press