Jefferson County star Chambliss recovering after cancer scare, surgery

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

FAYETTE &045; You won’t find many people arguing the fact that Anthony &uot;Jody&uot; Chambliss is a one tough guy.

Only a 5-9, 145-pound junior for Jefferson County High School, Chambliss hadn’t missed a game going back to his days playing junior high football in the seventh grade. So when he didn’t suit up for the Tigers back on Sept. 26 at Wilkinson County, you knew it had to be something serious.

Three weeks later he’s still out of action, but he’s sporting a gash in his midsection from the top of his stomach to his navel. It was the culmination of a freakish play Sept. 19 at Amite County and the frightening developments that followed for the high school junior and his mom that required four trips to a physician and a number of surgeries.

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&uot;He won our Spirit Award last year, and the way things are going it may end up going (to him) again this year,&uot; Jefferson County head coach Jeffrey Harness said. &uot;The best thing I like about Jody is he leaves everything on the field and plays his heart out every ball game. It’s been something to deal with emotionally, but I’m proud of him. I don’t know how I would have reacted in that situation, but he was so strong.&uot;

The first diagnosis was lymphoma, a type of cancer that sent a shock wave through the school when the message came. Further tests revealed two sizeable blood clots, large enough they could have caused serious harm had they not been detected.

And Chambliss is left to sit out football and probably basketball.

&uot;The doctor told me he will be able to play next year what he’s supposed to do,&uot; said his mom, Nicole Chambliss. &uot;(But) it’s just like it took everything from him. You take the ball away from him, and it’s just like taking his life away from him. He’s all about sports.&uot;

The play

No one really thought anything of it at the time. Chambliss caught the pass from quarterback Christopher Carradine and raced around the right side before getting tripped up. When he hit the ground, the point of the ball hit him in the stomach.

He was on the field for a short while, got up and left the field. He sat out a play, caught his breath and went back in.

&uot;I kind of laid down for a minute,&uot; Jody said. &uot;I didn’t know it was that serious. I just sat out a play and went back in. I didn’t feel anything until the next day.&uot;

It was thought to be so minor Amite County head coach Elbert &uot;Mo&uot; Lyles couldn’t remember it. Chambliss, who also plays defensive back, finished the game and hardly went back on the sideline again.

You know, that’s what tough guys do.

&uot;He had got hit a couple of times that night,&uot; Nicole said. &uot;That particular time particular time he laid there for a minute or two. I was like, ‘Lord, is he going to get up?’ After he got up, he came to the sideline, shook it off and finished the game.&uot;

Said Harness: &uot;It was on the other team’s sideline, and I went over to see. They said he just had the wind knocked out of him.&uot;

It was much more than that, but nothing showed up until the next morning. Chambliss complained of pain in his stomach area, so his mom took him to the hospital in Fayette to make sure everything was OK.

Doctors said he was just badly bruised and gave him some pain medication and told her to bring him back if the pain persisted. It did, and she did.

Then doctors said Chambliss was suffering from a bleeding ulcer.

&uot;I was like, how can you tell if you’re not checking him thoroughly?&uot; Nicole said. &uot;That Sunday he was feeling a little better. That Monday I left to go job hunting, and after I got back he didn’t feel right. They said he had a bleeding ulcer. For him to be hurting like that, something really had to be wrong.&uot;

That when she decided to take him to Natchez Regional to see what the problem was.

&uot;This was my first time ever having that pain,&uot; Jody said. &uot;At first I didn’t know it was that serious. I didn’t want to go to the doctor.&uot;

A CAT scan revealed bleeding spleen, and doctors there put Jody in ICU for further testing. They did another CAT scan that Thursday morning and told his mother the results were out of their control and recommended sending him to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

After an hour or so there, doctors dropped a bomb on Nicole &045; Jody, her oldest son, had cancer.

&uot;I was just tore up from there,&uot; she said. &uot;I was like, ‘My baby? He’s only 18.’&uot;


The initial prognosis was lymphoma, a type of cancer involving the body’s lymphatic system, part of the body’s immune system that fights off disease and infection that come from both outside the body and within.

The next step was determining whether he had Hodgkins or non-Hodgkins with Hodgkin’s lymphoma having an 80-percent cure rate and non-Hodgkins being the worst of the two. That morning doctors did the first biopsy on Chambliss, and everyone waited for the results to come back over the next couple of days.

The tests were negative, so doctors said they would do another biopsy and try again. A couple of days went by again, and the doctor came back again.

&uot;The doctor called me and told me and said, ‘We’re going to have to check him again,’&uot; Nicole said. &uot;I said, ‘Lord, if you have to go into him again, please, please get what you need this time.’ I was tired of this cutting. The doctor said he wanted to do it himself this time so he could touch it instead of just getting the blood.&uot;

That was a Thursday, and Chambliss came home the next day so he could watch the Tigers’ homecoming game Oct. 3 against Franklin County. He then went back to UMC at 6 a.m. Oct. 8 for a third biopsy for what was supposed to be a 15- to 20-minute process.

The surgery took a little more than two hours, but the doctor determined what type of lymphoma it was &045; neither. The surgery instead revealed two large blood clots in his stomach area.

&uot;He was determined to find out what it was,&uot; Nicole said. &uot;One of (the clots) was sitting on his main vessel that was slowing his blood flow down. The other was behind his liver.&uot;

The news was a huge sigh of relief to everyone, and fortunately the doctor found it early enough to keep it from causing major damage.

&uot;She had asked me if the doctor told me the good news, and I said no,&uot; Jody said. &uot;The doctor said there was no cancer. (Mom had) a big smile. When they told me I could have cancer, I was scared. But deep down I felt like I didn’t have cancer.&uot;

Nicole, however, wasn’t as sure, but she was quite relieved upon hearing final verdict.

&uot;I had got to a point where I couldn’t let him see me in that condition because I had to be strong for him,&uot; Nicole said. &uot;I couldn’t help him, and that was a hard pill to swallow. Those were the 13 most restless days I have ever had in my entire life. When they first diagnosed him with cancer, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep and couldn’t drink. All I could do was walk, walk, walk. When they came back and said there were no signs of cancer, I felt like I had 100 pounds lifted off me.&uot;

Road to recovery

Chambliss goes back to the doctor on Thursday to make sure everything is going well. He’s staying at home mostly with his mom and younger siblings, and Harness and girls’ basketball coach Flora McKnight have kept in contact with the family as they have since the very beginning.

The Tigers had to play their Sept. 26 game at Wilkinson County in his honor, a game they won. They lost that game against Franklin County but took a surprising win over North Pike Oct. 10 to stay in the hunt for the playoffs.

&uot;We go way back,&uot; Harness said of Jody. &uot;I had never coached a game without him being on the field up until that Woodville game. That was kind of a new experience for me. We’re hurting right now because we don’t have him. He’s one of the best athletes we have, and he was the kid that inspired me to stay with coaching. When we played Franklin, that’s when it all settled in &045; what were we going to do without him?&uot;

Harness and the staff were relieved it wasn’t cancer, something that could have really taken down the tough guy who has played just about anywhere on the field that coaches have asked him to play.

&uot;I just prayed and prayed and prayed,&uot; Harness said. &uot;The guys came together for him. The Lord works in mysterious ways. He might have moved that cancer. It’s all in God’s hands.&uot;

And the road to recovery will be a slow process for a guy that loves to play football. He’s also a member of the Tigers’ basketball team, but that may be out of his plans this season. Right now, he’s just glad to have the ordeal behind him &045; just like his mom.

&uot;It hurts, but I know I’ve got another year,&uot; Jody said. &uot;I feel like I can wait and play next year. He said I could look forward to playing again next year.&uot;