‘I’m not done yet:’ Vann overcomes cancer diagnosis

Nate Vann had just completed a track meet when he felt some pain on his right side, but he didn’t think much of it. Soon, Vann’s world would be flipped upside down.

After being examined the following Monday, Vann was told he had a dislocated rib and had it popped back in.  The doctors also ordered an X-ray. In early February, Vann was told he had a fractured rib and it had something else on it. To get a closer look at it, a CT scan was ordered. Vann was then told there was a tumor on his rib.

“It was an accidental find, is what the doctor called it,” Vann said. “I will say God was looking out for me then and I think throughout the whole thing. He’s just trying to teach me a lesson, nobody’s above anything.”

Following the CT scan results, an MRI was ordered to get a closer look at the tumor. The doctor told him the tumor was a cancerous one called Chondrosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, and it was removed in March 2020. 

Vann found himself in a dark place during that time. He was a junior in college and just found out he was diagnosed with cancer. On top of that, Vann’s diagnosis came in the middle of the pandemic. He began to isolate himself and question why this happened to him.

“I’m not going to lie, that’s something I haven’t opened up with a lot of people,” Vann said. “People know about it but they don’t know how I was doing after that. I really appreciate my friends, my family for checking in on me. Mentally that was a big block because I was 19, 20 years old at the time and I was told I have cancer.”

The pandemic ended up being a blessing in disguise for Vann, which allowed him to spend more time getting back to full health. Vann started to run again just a couple days after his surgery, despite still having the stitches in.

Vann also found unique ways to stay in shape, while quarantining with limited resources available to him. He decided to go to Home Depot and built his own dumbbells out of concrete to continue his rehab process.

“The process was actually really tough,” Vann said. “With it being over Covid, all the gyms were closed. It was kind of tough not being able to lift or practice pole vault and stuff like that. So after Covid it was back to ground zero and started back over.”

After he returned to campus next fall, Vann put in the work to get back to the level he was at previously. Vann’s efforts resulted in his best season with the Shockers, despite battling numerous injuries throughout the year. 

Vann competed in five meets and secured a second place finish in the decathlon at the AAC Outdoor Championships. He also competed in the pole vault and finished in 14th at the same meet.

“I’m definitely proud of the work that I do, I’ve always been a hard worker but never being satisfied is a thing I’ve been taught,” Vann said. “This past track season, even the indoor season sucked. I was injured pretty much the whole season, trying to compete on a bad heel, bad hamstring, messed up knee. I’ve still got a lot left to prove, I’m not done yet.”

Vann has been known for toughness, battling through various ailments since arriving in 2019 as a junior college transfer. During the conference meet in late February, Vann couldn’t finish the meet after suffering a hamstring injury, which came as a surprise with how often he’s battled through injuries in his career.

“He’s a guy I’ve really been proud of consistently,” Director of Track and Field Steve Rainbolt said. “He’s had a lot of injuries, that one was a serious health challenge but he’s had a lot of aches and pains that have challenged him. Sometimes seeming like some sort of a walking problem waiting to happen. He battles through them as tough as anybody that I have ever been around.”

Rainbolt said Vann was even-keeled throughout the process, always staying optimistic after the diagnosis. He said that’s how Vann has always been since he arrived at WSU.

“I could easily imagine Nate being pretty darn good buddies with some of the younger athletes and them having no idea this ever happened,” Rainbolt said.

Vann still has to test regularly but since the tumor was removed, there hasn’t been any new growth, with all tests coming back negative. Vann will remain on a watchlist for the rest of his life but said the support he’s received throughout the process has motivated him even more.

“I’m forever grateful. Pat Wilson, Coach Bolt, they were checking up on me, I heard from them every day,” Vann said. “My mom was my rock. Number one fan, wouldn’t be where I’m at without her and I really just appreciate her taking the time out of her work schedule and taking time off to come up to Wichita and making sure I’m fine.”