FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – The Colorado basketball community is coming together to support a teenager during the battle of his life. Carter Edgerley, 17, was recently diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer.
The diagnosis would ruin Edgerley’s dream of playing varsity basketball at Rocky Mountain High School. But it would also show him how much support he has, even from complete strangers and celebrities.
Edgerley’s passion for basketball is evident through how he spends his free time. When he wasn’t playing basketball, he was playing the NBA2k video game, or watching the Denver Nuggets on TV.
“I’ve played it since I was a little kid. I love it,” Edgerley said.
Edgerley hoped to translate that love for the sport to the court, by trying out for his high school team. His dream was to play on the varsity squad. The first few years of high school, his efforts fell short. However, after growth on and off the court, the 6-foot-6 teenager made the cut, and was given a spot on the varsity team.
“We were so excited, and so happy for him,” said Pete Krohn, one of Edgerley’s teammates.
Edgerley laced up, and took the court for each practice leading up to the first game of the season. With his height, Edgerley was looking forward to playing the center position for his Fort Collins school.
However, prior to the first game of the season, Edgerley was injured during practice.
“I got kneed,” Edgerley said.
Edgerley’s teammate accidentally bumped in to him. At first, he thought he just irritated a muscle. However, the pain increased.
“He just started limping, and then he tried to run in the drill, and couldn’t do it,” said Joseph Urynowicz, Edgerley’s teammate.
“(My leg) just gave out on me. I couldn’t run anymore,” Edgerley said.
Edgerley and his team thought the pain was a result of a sprain. If that was the case, Edgerley thought he would only have to sit out a couple weeks. However, as time passed, the pain didn’t go away. He went to the emergency room for an X-ray, and hoped for the best. However, he received a call from his father, after the X-ray was examined.
“It’s never something you’re prepared to hear, ‘Hey, you have a tumor in your leg,’” Edgerley said.
Edgerley was told it was Osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer often seen in young adults. Doctors told CBS4 the cancer is only found in around 200-300 Americans every year.
As quick as his dream became a reality, it was ended by cancer. Edgerley was told he couldn’t play varsity basketball and would have to undergo significant chemotherapy and surgery.
“It was the last thing I expected, and the worst thing I could ever hear,” Urynowicz said.
Edgerley would have to undergo treatment that would sideline him from the game and force him in to the hospital for weeks at a time. Edgerley recalled the day his hair started to fall out, as a result of chemotherapy.
Humiliated, Edgerley decided to shave his head. When he went to a team dinner, he arrived to find each of his teammates also shaved their head, as a sign of support.
“It’s about a lot more than a basketball game, this is about a kid’s life,” Krohn said.
The team dedicated their season to “#TeamEdge.” Rivals from around the basketball community set their feuds aside to join in the movement, some even raising money at games to donate toward finding a cure.
Edgerley attends most games when he is out of the hospital between chemotherapy.
Sitting at the end of the bench, often with a beanie covering his head, Edgerley roots on his team. Depending on how much energy he has, Edgerley is often heard heckling during the game, or cheering on his teammates, like any other basketball fan.
For years, basketball was Carter Edgerley’s life. Now with cancer, basketball is his escape from life.
Lying in a hospital bed at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, Edgerley invited CBS4’s Dillon Thomas to document his battle with cancer.
“I just got another dose of chemo,” Edgerley said, lethargically. “It’s rough. It is really rough. You feel awful. And even when you feel 100 percent, you still don’t feel like your complete self.”
After chemotherapy, Edgerley is forced to sit in a bedroom, typically on a 72-hour medical hold. Visitors have to go through multiple sanitary stations and wear gloves before they can see him.
For days at a time, Edgerley is typically unable to be with his friends, or to attend sporting events. To escape from the reality of his battle, Edgerley usually awaits game nights, in which he can watch the Denver Nuggets on television.
“I’m a huge Nuggets fan,” Edgerley said.
Each night, propped up in his hospital bed and covered with sheets, Edgerley watches the Nuggets on a wall-mounted TV.
“It’s really easy to throw myself in to it, and try to forget,” Edgerley said. “(I feel) something other than boredom.”
Edgerley idolizes the Nuggets’ players, especially All Star center Nikola Jokic. From the hospital, he said he only wished he could have the opportunity to meet them all.
“They have so much going on, that I can imagine that it would be hard for them to find the time to care,” Edgerley said.
While it was clear his teammates, rivals, and the Fort Collins community knew his story, Edgerley did not know the NBA did as well.
CBS4 partnered with the Denver Nuggets for the best surprise of Edgerley’s year. While out of the hospital, Edgerley believed he was just going to a Nuggets game as a regular fan. He didn’t know he was going to receive VIP passes from the team, and would be escorted courtside for pre-game shoot around.
“It’s just a little bright in here, isn’t it?” Edgerley said, as he walked out of the player’s tunnel in to the Pepsi Center arena. “I had no idea any of this was happening. It’s awesome.”
Edgerley was given private access to the team’s pre-game warmup rituals.
“Walking down (an NBA) court is just crazy. It has always just been something I wanted to do. “It’s crazy being this close, and seeing everything. It is totally different.”
While many would have to pay for such an experience, the Denver Nuggets gave Edgerley the access for free.
“It’s so much fun them shoot around, because they’re all so good, and they don’t miss,” Edgerley said, as he sat feet away from his idol Nikola Jokic.
The surprises didn’t end there. Not only did the Denver Nuggets public relations staff know his story, so did the players. Edgerley’s face lit up, as Jokic walked over to visit him.
“It’s crazy watching you warm up, you are cash from everywhere. It’s insane.” Edgerley said to Jokic.
Jokic spent a few minutes visiting with Edgerley, and his family. They took pictures, and Jokic even signed his jersey for Edgerley.
Other players also stopped to meet Edgerley. Point guard Monte Morris asked Edgerley how his battle was going, and encouraged him to stay strong.
Forward Juancho Hernangomez signed a shirt for Edgerley, and gave him a bag of candy.
Guard Malik Beasley gave Edgerley a hug, a signature, and more.
“You need anything, let me know” Beasley told Edgerley.
Many other players stopped for autographs, pictures and more.
Edgerley spent hours courtside, even getting to cross paths with NBA stars Chris Paul and James Harder. Edgerley went on to watch the Nuggets beat the Houston Rockets.
“It just shows how great of an organization (the Nuggets) are,” Edgerley said.
One week after his NBA escape, Edgerley was back in the hospital, undergoing another round of chemotherapy, in preparation for a future surgery.
With tears in his eyes, Edgerley reflected on the night basketball replaced his worries, his pain, and his reality.
“That was awesome. Just to be able to go do that for a while. Not to have to think, or care, about anything else. That was really cool,” Edgerley said. “When we were leaving, it all came back. But, for four hours, I didn’t care.”
“Cancer is a terrible thing. But, it is amazing how a community can come together over something so terrible,” Urynowicz said.
With the support of his team, Fort Collins, and the basketball community, Edgerley said he was encouraged to continue to fight.
“What will be the takeaway from the experience of cancer?” Thomas asked.
“Just that no one ever really goes through anything alone. You always have support, and people willing to back you up,” Edgerley said.