During the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour, veteran pros Jarrett Edwards and Mark Menendez were hit with life-threatening illnesses that ended their seasons prematurely. Fishing fans will be relieved to learn that both are recovering nicely and looking forward to returning to action.

Colorado's Jarrett Edwards was practicing for the Tour event at Clarks Hill Reservoir when neck soreness from wearing a new helmet caused him to get a check-up. That led to a diagnosis on March 31st of Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer. Left undiagnosed, doctors told him his life expectancy would have been about 18 months. "That helmet might have saved my life," he said.

Edwards and wife, Rebecca (high school sweethearts who celebrated their first wedding anniversary on May 15th) decided on an immediate and aggressive form of chemotherapy/radiation treatment.

"It's been a tough road so far, but there's light at the end of the tunnel," the 25-year-old angler said. "We feel really good about it.

"I'm currently through my third chemo, which is the halfway point. I have three more chemos to go, followed by a month of radiation. It's always scary at first and the first chemo just about killed me - literally. I was in the hospital for a week and a half, and my white blood cell count, which is your immune system, dropped all the way down to 140 when it's normally at 6,000.

"Luckily, things are looking up now, and I'm excited to get back in the boat and do some fishing."

Edwards has had to endure a torturous chemotherapy treatment every other Tuesday. With his latest dose of the second-strongest chemo cocktail available, he said X-rays indicated that the "fist and a half-sized" tumor near his heart appears to have disappeared.

"I feel so blessed," he said. "Chemo is really tough. The doctors told me, 'Just remember that what's killing you now will heal you in the end.' I believe it now. I know I'm going through hell for a reason."

During his darkest moments, Edwards has gained strength from the bass fishing community.

"The support from the Tour anglers has been amazing," he said. "And the fans - you think you have fans out there, but you don't really know until something like this hits home. I've gotten 434 emails from fans so far.

"It just brings a tear to your eye knowing that people took five minutes out of their day to give you a call or send you an email - to know that you have a lot of support out there. I really rely on those when I have bad days after chemo. I go back and read them, and suddenly my cancer doesn't seem like such a bad thing."

With the end of his treatments in sight, Edwards is thinking more and more about fishing.

"I've snuck out a few times and just played around on the water," he admitted. "The doctors feel by the end of August I can be back in a boat and out there firing away, so I'm hoping to make one of the Western Opens. I really look forward to it.

"My goal is to get back to the Opens at the end of this summer, and I really look forward to getting back on Tour.

"This whole thing changes you. Like it or not, it changes you, and you look at things a lot differently."

Mark Menendez understands.

It was while practicing for the Lake Guntersville Tour stop that the 40-year-old Kentucky pro was struck with meningitis and had to be hospitalized for more than a week. It began with an excruciating headache, followed by a high fever. That led to a spinal tap that indicated he had contracted meningitis, a life-threatening ailment.

Fortunately, Menendez had been taking antibiotics after periodontal surgery for several months. Unknowingly pre-treating the meningitis likely saved his life, according to doctors.

Since then, recovery has been slow, but steady.

"I'm coming back," the three-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier said. "Things are starting to improve quicker now. I'm starting to fish a lot more here around the house. I'm starting to feel a lot better.

"When I left Guntersville the doctor said recovery would take two to six months. I thought I'd be back at it in a week or two, but she knew more about it than I did. It still presents a lot of challenges, especially endurance. The fishing part of it is not a problem. If he bites, I can still catch him. Endurance is the thing I'm worried about right now.

"I don't have any leftover symptoms at this point. When I first got home, my eyesight was severely affected; I couldn't see very well. When the meningitis symptoms went away, the swelling on the spinal cord and the brain went down and everything started coming back to normal."

At the time of his diagnosis, Menendez and wife, Donna, were adjusting to life with a 6-month-old daughter and had just received word that she was pregnant with a son.

"It made me just kind of slow down," he said. "The last six or seven years I had been going wide-open running here and there.

"Getting some time at home gave me some perspective on what's really important, and I'm kind of readjusting my schedule to do the things that I need to do and spend time at home with my family. It really has made a big difference."

Like Edwards, Menendez is anxious to resume his career.

"I'm going to fish the Southern Opens," he said. "I'd like a shot at the 2006 Classic. By time the Tour starts again, I think I'll be 100 percent.

"The unfortunate thing about this is I lost my Elite 50 position, and I won't be able to get that back for three years, but it's still better being in the position I'm in and not looking at the backside of the daisies, if you know what I mean."






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Bass N Edge

Last modified: January 24, 2006