Buccaneers P Josh Bidwell is often quiet about his successful battle with cancer, but not when it comes to helping kids
(Courtesy of NFLPlayers.com, the official web site of the NFL Players Association.)
A punter has a unique job on the gridiron. Asked to come in on fourth downs, he often must get his team out of a tight spot.
While Tampa Bay Buccaneers punter Josh Bidwell has had his back against the wall plenty of times in his 10-year football career, he has never faced anything like what he had to tackle his first season in the league. Just 11 days before he was to play in his first NFL game, Bidwell found out that he had testicular cancer.
"Two days after the coaches released the other punter and informed me that I'd be the punter for the Packers, I got that news that I had cancer," said Bidwell, who was taken by Green Bay in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft. "I got the worst news I could have hoped for and I had a battle on my hands."
Though Bidwell was facing the challenge of a lifetime, he had support from his Green Bay teammates and even cycling great Lance Armstrong. Armstrong, fresh off of his first Tour de France win, traded e-mails with Bidwell, giving him support and insight into the treatment process.
Bidwell's Green Bay teammates raised nearly $100,000 to help out with the medical costs of his surgeries and two rounds of chemotherapy. The Packers also provided emotional support as he went through rehabilitation and training to put back on the 40 pounds that he had lost.
The punter was back on the field the following season and again earned the starting job in Green Bay. He has since played in 144 consecutive games and made it to the Pro Bowl in 2005 with the Buccaneers.
Bidwell is normally humble and quiet about beating cancer. So quiet in fact, that most of his teammates in Tampa Bay did not know about it until he wrote a book four years after signing with the Buccaneers. Yet when it comes to raising awareness about cancer, Bidwell is more than willing to share his story and has been able to turn his struggle with cancer into a positive for the community. When his schedule matches up with the local high schools near his home in Oregon, Bidwell volunteers to teach the cancer portion of health class.
"I'll get the boys and I'll talk to them about self-examinations and the importance of finding this particular cancer early and just how good it is if they find it early. You have almost 100 percent chance of beating it," he said.
After Bidwell taught for the first time, a local television station did a feature on him for the nightly news.
"I got a call a week later from a friend of a friend, and this friend's friend saw me on television and recognized the symptoms I was describing and went in and got diagnosed," Bidwell said. "He had advanced stage testicular cancer, so I thank the Lord. He has a wife and kids, and he's fine today. He made it through."
His book, "When It's Fourth and Long," has also been an inspiration to many.
"One of the reasons I wrote the book … was to encourage people, whether you have cancer or cancers of sorts in your life, to keep your mind strong and pick out goals that you need to get through it," Bidwell said. "I've had a lot of people e-mail me or call me just to say that it inspired them to get over the hump for whatever it was they were going through. It's incredibly rewarding."
Bidwell also began the Josh Bidwell Foundation to support the Community Cancer Center of Roseburg, Oregon, a nonprofit organization that provides free treatment to patients who cannot afford insurance.
"They're unbelievable," Bidwell said. "Not everybody can afford to treat their cancer, but certainly everybody should be given the opportunity to live."
The foundation also supports the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and local sports programs. Bidwell said that as a child, he was fortunate to have people in the community support him both spiritually and athletically, and now he wants to be the one providing opportunities.
"Sports programs are getting cut, kids probably can't afford shoes, can't afford to pay fees to be on teams," he said. "My dad worked in a mill for 32 years and we lived in a single white trailer in the middle of nowhere and we couldn't afford all of that stuff, but nevertheless I always ended up having it. I attribute that to some of the people in the town who could afford to help."
Bidwell has overcome great odds – from his childhood to his battle with cancer – to become one of the top punters in the NFL. He found a way not only to beat cancer, but, like any great punter, he has turned a tough situation into a positive for others around him.