Marc Edge sits with his legs across the top of his desk while chewing on a cracker with a Diet Mountain Dew nearby.
He greets the visitor with a smile and explains that he’s not simply relaxing, but instead keeping his left leg elevated to prevent more swelling caused from the surgery to treat a rare form of skin cancer.
A black patch covers his left eye, a visual reminder of a series of ailments from head to toe the Houston Academy athletics director and football defensive coordinator has endured over the past year and a half.
“He’s kind of like the old boxer who keeps taking blows and keeps standing up, you know?” Houston Academy head football coach Jamie Riggs said. “It’s been amazing.”
Edge sends his wife, Becky, a text message each day shortly after arriving on campus. While he works at the private school in Dothan, she remains in Brewton as the guidance counselor at T.R Miller High School, where he coached for 12 years before retiring and taking the Houston Academy job in June of 2018.
“I send her a proof of life picture and she sends me one back, just to say, ‘Hey, I’m OK,’” Edge said. “Between the Good Lord and my wife, we’ve made it through a whole year.”
He credits his wife for being “a rock” in helping him through the tough times. The chocolate pudding she routinely made helped, too. After losing roughly 60 pounds, Edge said it was the only food he could stomach for a while.
The life-altering experience began during a routine check-up with his dermatologist in Pensacola, Fla., after Edge asked the doctor to check a spot on the back of his left knee that hadn’t been noticed in other visits.
Sitting in his truck in the Houston Academy parking lot three weeks after being hired at HA, Edge received a call from the dermatologist, who asked if he was sitting down.
“She said, ‘You have skin cancer,’” Edge said. “I really didn’t know how to take it. And she said, ‘The bad news is this is Merkel cell carcinoma,’ which I had never heard of. It is the rarest, the most aggressive, the most deadly form of melanoma there is.”
The doctor also told Edge surgery was already scheduled.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute, a surgery? I’ve got football going on; I don’t have time for this,’” Edge said.
“She said, ‘You don’t have time to die, either. You need to get down here.’”
Surgery was performed on July 5 of last year. It was a start, but nowhere near the end of the troubles.
“They went in and cut clean margins, they did a lymph node biopsy and it had spread to the lymph nodes,” Edge said. “This doctor did a bang up job, but this was step A and my wife wasn’t really thrilled with step B answers. Where do we go from here?
“I’m still in recovery and she calls Emory University, and to my knowledge Emory University doesn’t really take patients over the phone. But after they heard this was a Merkel cell case, they had my records by the next day.”
At Emory, it was determined that more lymph nodes in the groin would need to be removed, along with all of them in his pelvis.
“So that was about 36 in the groin and 24 in the pelvis,” Edge said. “Three of the six in the groin tested positive for Merkel cell, none of the ones in the pelvis tested, so they got it.”
But there would be more troubles to come.
Two weeks after the surgery on the drive back from a check-up in Atlanta, Edge was feeling extreme pain in his leg.
“I told my wife I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get in the house,” Edge said. “It’s late in the evening. Long story short, I had developed a blood clot from the surgery. So I’m in the hospital the next day getting shots for breaking up blood clots. That delayed my radiation treatment for a month.”
Edge was distressed about a lot of things, among them not being able to coach or carry out his athletics director duties for his new employer.
A visit from Riggs on a Saturday evening provided a “kick in the pants” he needed.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Right now I see you’ve got your knee propped up,’” Edge remembers Riggs saying. ‘Is there anything wrong with your hands?’ No, there’s nothing wrong with my hands, coach. And he said, ‘Is there anything wrong with your eyes?’ No sir, there’s nothing wrong with my eyes.
“He says, ‘Then why don’t you pick up that computer and get to work and try to help us win some ball games, because I don’t need you feeling sorry for yourself.’”
Riggs calls it “just football” of his pep talk.
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons through football, and one of them that we’ve learned is that no matter the situation, you can’t feel sorry for yourself,” Riggs said. “I just encouraged him a little bit. He may have needed that at the time.”
So Edge cranked up his computer and began working from his home in Brewton, helping break down game films and anything else he could do to contribute.
“I was drawing stuff up, crunching numbers and doing all the analytic work that you have to do to try and get a team ready,” Edge said. “Whatever little bit I could contribute last year, I worked as hard as I could to help, from two-and-a-half hours away. It helped me, probably, more than it helped them.”
When Edge was about to begin radiation treatments, the swelling in his leg opened up places in the stitches, further delaying the radiation until the middle of October.
“I finished up the first week of December and I had another wound open up, but that’s when I told my wife, ‘Wound or not, I’m going to work.’” Edge said. “I was not near 100 percent, but the administration here worked with me and helped me get back up and going. I kind of limped my way through.”
After moving to Dothan and beginning his duties at Houston Academy, Edge developed swelling on the left side of his back which required the fluid to be drained about once a month.
“They were pulling out like five liters of fluid out of my back,” Edge said.
In May, Edge began having pain in his neck. It was learned during one of the surgeries that his left ureter – a duct in which urine passes through the kidney to the bladder – had been nicked and urine had been leaking into his abdomen and flank for a year. Surgery was set for the end of July to reconstruct the tube that connects with the bladder.
“After they told me what they were going to do, I said that sounds like a lot of moving parts,” Edge said. “About two days later, they called and said there is another option – we could just remove the kidney.
“I said, ‘What’s the healing time on that?’ They said a lot quicker than the other. So on June 28 of this summer, I went in and had the kidney removed.
“My wife drove me back to Brewton. I laid around Fourth of July week and then on July 8, that next Monday, I was back out here coaching football.”
With a preseason game with Zion Chapel scheduled for late August, Edge was so looking forward to coaching on the field in a game with the Raiders for the first time.
It wasn’t to be.
“Probably the second weekend of August, I went to get new contacts and new glasses and found out I had a detached retina that was about one-third detached,” Edge said. “They said, ‘You’re going to have to have surgery and have this reattached.’”
Turning to God was the only way Edge knew to handle the repeated setbacks.
“My father was a Baptist preacher, his father was a Baptist preacher, my son is a youth pastor. I mean, we have a very intense belief in the Christian faith,” Edge said. “I have hurt physically more in the past year, but I have seen where I have been impatient and I have seen where it’s not on my timetable, it’s on His timetable.”
Edge coached the Raiders from the press box for the first time in the second game of the season at Pike County. He returned to the sidelines last Friday during a home game against Opp.
“Folks don’t understand that this is not just a job, it’s a passion,” Edge said. “It’s something that’s in your blood and you’ve been cut off. I’ve been a part of a team, whether participating or coaching a team, for tons of my years and then all of the sudden you’re cut off, and that’s tough to deal with.
“But now, I was back out there. I have to sort of manage how long I’m up, but to be back a part of the team and to help prepare the boys – to be back with the coaching staff with men I’ve worked with for years that I love like brothers.”
Edge has found out a lot about himself during the ordeal. He’s learned how much people care about him as well.
“I would lay awake sometimes at night and you’re hurting, and I would pray for small mercies,” Edge said. “And then to know there are people like the HA family, there are people like the T.R. Miller family, there are people that I don’t even know who sent me a card or sent me a note that said our church is praying for you. I cannot tell you the number of players that sent encouraging messages all back last fall.”
Treatments continue for the cancer, which returned but appears under control.
“I try to pace myself a little bit so that I have energy and can go on the field and coach,” Edge said. “I do defense, so whenever we are doing offense I go take a seat and prop my leg up or something. I hate that I’m not able to do a full practice, but I’m getting closer.”
As for everyday life, Edge isn’t complaining.
“Oh, life is awesome,” Edge said. “Like the other day, I had a lot of pain in my leg. But it could be worse, because I’ve seen worse.”