Steven Senne, File
May 05, 2015

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Nate Solder was blindsided by the news. Cancer.

He had just turned 26. At 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds, he was in excellent condition. Tom Brady depended on his left tackle to protect him.

But after a team physical at the New England Patriots voluntary team activities last spring, Solder was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

The impact didn't sink in at first. For a while, he thought he might not be able to play a full season.

''It was a natural thought,'' Solder said Tuesday. ''The doctors quickly assured me that with this treatment that they were doing, I would be just fine.''

He underwent surgery and participated in organized team activities in June.

''With the great care of the doctors and everybody that took care of me it was a couple of weeks,'' he said. ''I was cured.''

Solder played all 16 games plus three in the postseason. He caught a 16-yard touchdown pass in the Patriots 45-7 win in the AFC title game against the Indianapolis Colts. He helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl.

And he went to the White House last month when President Obama held the traditional ceremony honoring that championship.

''That,'' Solder said, ''was really neat.''

He and his wife married about three weeks after the diagnosis. Now she's expecting their child.

The cancer diagnosis and his recovery deepened Solder's religious beliefs and gave him greater appreciation for friends and family.

''You can spend more time with the ones you love, focus more on people that matter the most. I think that was the message I came away with,'' he said. ''It changes your perspective a little bit.''

Solder was the 11th player drafted in 2011 and started all but three games as a rookie.

He guards his privacy and usually speaks in the team-first approach that coach Bill Belichick emphasizes. He went public with his cancer diagnosis two weeks ago, although some teammates already knew about it.

''Through the course of the season, there's a lot of things that you just kind of are trying to balance out,'' he said. ''So we just said, `let's take our time with it, but let's do it as soon as we can to help as many people as we can.'''

Now he wants to spread awareness of the need for early detection.

''The sooner you detect it, the sooner you get to a doctor, the less of a problem it can be,'' Solder said. ''The fact that I had the physical here, the fact that I had a lot of people looking after my health is something that probably a lot of men don't have at my age. So I think that made a difference.''

He said he didn't need chemotherapy or radiation. He gets periodic checkups. And he's taking part in this year's voluntary team activities.

''Feeling great,'' he said.

The Patriots are in the second phase of those activities, which allows more on-field work with coaches. The offensive line is an area of concern with last year's starting left guard, Dan Connolly, unsigned.

Marcus Cannon, a 2011 draft choice who had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was activated in November of that season, is the likely replacement for Connolly.

In last week's draft, the Patriots chose two offensive linemen in the fourth round, Tre' Jackson from Florida State and Shaquille Mason from Georgia Tech.

''The more good players they can bring in, the better,'' Solder said. ''We're always competing for a job. We're always trying to get better.''

Now the Patriots have a chance to win consecutive titles like they did in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. But he doesn't dwell on last season's championship.

''I genuinely don't think I'm a person that lives in the past,'' Solder said.

He focuses on the present.

''You have to,'' he said. ''There are too many unknowns.''

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