07/11/2008 AT 01:25 PM EDT
Olympic swimmer Eric Shanteau is off to Beijing with a diagnosis of testicular cancer, and will delay his surgery until after he competes there, the 24-year-old Georgia native tells the Associated Press.
His physicians approved his being in the Olympic trials in Omaha, where he made the team in the 200-meter breaststroke, having finished second ahead of former world-record holder (and presumptive winner) Brendan Hansen.
"Talk about a life-changing experience," said Shanteau, whose initial reaction to his diagnosis was disbelief. "That's as big a one as you can have, I think. You're changed for the rest of your life. The few people I've talked to who've gone through this – and they're all much, much older than I am – say I'll know that even more in 10 years."
He will be closely monitored this month and will drop out of the Olympics should his cancer appear to be spreading.
"If I didn't make the team, the decision would have been easy: Go home and have the surgery," Shanteau said. "I made the team, so I had a hard decision. But, by no means am I being stupid about this."