CELEBRATION, Fla. — Pro angler Jarrett Edwards has overcome more obstacles in one year than the average person will endure in a lifetime. The 26-year-old angler from Page, Ariz., in March was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin's disease and in seven months has not only beaten the illness, but will return to BASS and fish the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series with a renewed spirit and determination to win.
"Cancer teaches you a lot about yourself," said Edwards. "Having a positive attitude ... meant the world to me. It's only human that we take things for granted and I've quickly learned that when you take away someone's health, you've got nothing."
In March 2005, Edwards was pre-fishing Clark's Hill Reservoir in Georgia, the fourth stop on the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour, when he felt a slight pain in his neck. It was a rough and windy day on the water and Edwards was testing a boat helmet for its durability. The helmet's added weight and pressure left Edwards with a sore neck the next day and when the pain did not subside, Edwards checked himself for injuries. To his shock, he found a lump near his collar bone.
Edwards put the pain aside and traveled to the next Tour stop at Lake Norman in Cornelius, N.C. But on the final practice day — two weeks after he first found the lump and fought consistent pain — Edwards went to the hospital. An X-ray confirmed Edwards' biggest fear: He had a tumor nearly two fists in size next to his heart.
"I was scared to death," he said. "I prayed so hard that night, and got up and had a great day of fishing even though it was in the back of my mind." After the tournament (Edwards placed 69th), a CT scan revealed three more egg-sized tumors in Edwards' neck, buried under his collarbone. He and his wife rushed home to prepare for surgery.
"March 31, 2005, was my first surgery," said Edwards. "I tested positive for Hodgkin's, which was pretty scary. I learned quickly you can never prepare for what you're about to endure."
Hodgkin's disease is an uncommon cancer of the lymphatic system, part of the immune system. The cells grow abnormally and may spread and the disease compromises the ability to fight infection.
Edwards underwent chemotherapy every two weeks for the next seven months. The first treatment sent the angler's white blood cell count into a downward spiral, forcing him to be hospitalized for nine days. Edwards finished the brutal treatments in late June and began a series of 17 more radiation sessions to eliminate any remaining cancerous cells.
Edwards had his final session on Aug. 28 and is slowly rebuilding his strength – determined to be at his best for his Elite Series debut on Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, March 9-12, for the "Battle on the Border."
"Mentally, I'm coming back strong," said Edwards. "I might have a great season or terrible season, but I'm going to do my best. I feel I have so much to prove on the water this year."
With his cancer in remission, Edwards receives a scan every three months to check for reoccurrences. Focused on his work, he's also negotiating a sponsor deal for his Elite Series boat and truck wrap. His current sponsors include Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Lowrance Electronics, St. Croix Rod Co., PowerPro fishing line, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, tackle company Luhr Jensen & Sons, KeelShield Keel Protector and Solar Bat sunglasses.
"BASS has taken a great step to create a field for the top 100 anglers," said Edwards. "If we continue to grow it and I have the opportunity to play ... I don't want to miss out on that. This could be the biggest thing in professional bass fishing."