Like any coach, Andy Bloodworth loves to win games, and he’s good at it.
His L.D. Bell Lady Raiders were 5-3 going into their Nov. 30 game against Fort Worth Arlington Heights. In his previous gig in Ardmore, Oklahoma, his teams were 97-14 over his final four years and made history with a 2016 state tournament appearance. He was also a coach in the Oklahoma Coaches Association All-State Game.
But the 42-year-old first-year coach at Bell has already won a battle much bigger than any he will ever win on a court.
Seventeen years ago he was diagnosed with cancer in his left ankle. Though it was diagnosed early — too early to even accurately determine its type — doctors offered him a stunning choice.
Fight the cancer, try to save his leg and have a less than 50 percent of survival, or lose the bottom part of his leg and have a much better chance at survival.
“Not knowing exactly what the tumor’s name was, the doctors needed to run two to three treatments of chemotherapy in order to see if the tumor was responding (shrinking) to the chemotherapy. That way they would be certain they had the correct diagnosis,” Bloodworth said.
I never once thought about dying. Instead, I continually thought about the things I was going to do.
L.D. Bell coach Andy Bloodworth, on losing his leg in order to have a better chance against cancer
“The tumor, in fact, responded, and they then posed the question to me whether I’d prefer them going in and scooping the tumor out, or be ‘more aggressive.’”
Doctors explained to him that by scooping the tumor out, they would have to cut through nerves, tendons and flesh. His leg would never be the same, and his chance of survival would be around 30 to 40 percent, with a very high chance of re-occurrence.
“I then asked them, by ‘more aggressive,’ do you all mean amputation? They said yes, and began to explain I’d almost double my chance of survival. I stopped them right there and said, let’s do it,” Bloodworth said.
After the amputation, Bloodworth continued chemotherapy treatments for roughly another year.
“Most people ask, why? Didn’t they get rid of the tumor?” Bloodworth said. “Yes, they did, but the doctors told me there is always a chance that one cell is floating around somewhere in your body that could multiply and turn into another tumor. That’s why the continuation of chemo is necessary.”
Bloodworth said because of his age, the tumor was diagnosed as children’s cancer. He was treated through Cook Children’s Hospital throughout the entire process.
Now, he walks with a prosthetic leg, which he admits took some adjusting to and that there are still limitations.
“It is all about your frame of mind,” he said. “You must stay positive and realize God has blessed you with more days on this Earth.”
Bell boys basketball coach Brock Pembleton, who coached the Lady Raiders before moving over this season, said Bloodworth’s attitude is the type needed for success in sports and all areas of life.
“Anytime a person battles, they gain a new perspective on life and what really matters,” Pembleton said. “Coach Bloodworth brings a strong will and desire to win, and we are blessed to have him at L.D. Bell teaching his students and athletes how to fight through adversity on and off the court.”
More than himself, Bloodworth is using his experience as an example for others facing a similar challenge. He cites a former player when he was working in Oklahoma who was involved in a car accident and also had to have her leg amputated below the knee.
“We definitely formed a bond, and we were able to compare notes about certain things,” he said. “She went on to be on the USA Paralympic Volleyball team and has won a gold and silver medal.”
Bloodworth’s family has a history with cancer. His maternal grandfather and fraternal cousin both battled the disease.
As for whether he is an example of determination and fortitude for his players and family, the humble coach said, “I just try to do my best every day and be the best teammate, husband, son, brother and dad I can possibly be.”
He does offer some advice for others who are about to undergo or have recently undergone similar surgery. Though it might be difficult at times, a positive frame of mind is key.
Yes, this can be a challenge. Bloodworth said he had 17 total chemo treatments that alternated between five days of being infused and three days of being infused. Between each treatment there was typically around a three-week period for the body to recover.
“As the treatments move forward closer to the end, your body takes longer and longer to heal, and each treatment may be pushed back until the body is healed or ready to start another one,” he said.
“I never once thought about dying. Instead, I continually thought about the things I was going to do once off of each particular chemo treatment.”
And at the top of that list was being a dad, in spite of the odds. A side effect of chemo treatment is it can drastically decrease the chances of having children.
Bloodworth and his wife had been told there was basically no chance on them having a child, so they thought about adoption, but never followed through.
“One day when I arrived home from basketball practice my wife set me down on the couch and said she had just gone to the doctor and she had some good news and some bad news. She asked which I wanted first. So I asked for the bad news first and she told me she was going to be sick for a while,” Bloodworth said.
“My mind went straight to ‘Oh no, she has cancer.’ She had that serious look on her face, and my stomach was in my throat.
“I didn’t notice she had her hand behind her back and she held up a onesie and said, ‘I’m going to be sick for nine months!’ Our son is now three, and he is such a blessing. I cherish every day and am so thankful for what God has given me.”