Fields out for the season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers linebacker Mark Fields has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and will miss the entire season, the team said Sunday.

Fields, 30, was hospitalized last week when a cut on his thumb became infected and didn't heal. Further tests detected Hodgkin's disease Thursday and he began chemotherapy Saturday.

"I'm truly blessed to have found out in this stage," Fields said in a statement. "Right now, my main goal is to focus on my condition. I don't look at this as a setback but another of life's ultimate challenges."

Panthers coach John Fox told the team Sunday at a team meeting in Spartanburg, S.C.

"Obviously it was hard on them, I think there is some shock involved," Fox said. "But we have to move on and Mark expects us to move on. He has got a fight that he is dealing with, and he is going to win his. He expects our team to win theirs."

Fields, signed as a free agent before last season, led Carolina with a career-high 127 tackles and team-record seven forced fumbles on a defense ranked second in the NFL. He also had 7.5 sacks.

A friendly and popular player, Fields spent his final afternoon at training camp last Wednesday laughing hysterically at lunch as he and other defensive players told stories. He went back to Charlotte and entered the hospital later that day.

"He is a great player and even better person. We're going to miss the heck out of him," linebacker Dan Morgan said. "Everybody is just kind of shocked. You just don't see these kind of things coming."

Fox and general manager Marty Hurney visited Fields at the hospital after returning from Carolina's 20-10 preseason victory over the New York Giants on Friday night.

"They say attitude is the most important part and Mark is really an inspiration in the way he has handled this," Hurney said. "When you walked in the room and talked to him, he was so upbeat it just lifted us up.

"He is very determined and he made it very clear to John that he wanted the team to know he is going to fight this."

Hurney said Fields is expected to be released from the hospital later this week and continue chemotherapy on an outpatient basis for the next several months.

"The success rate is very high, and we are very fortunate that it was caught when it was," Hurney said.

Hodgkin's disease is a form of cancer that strikes the lymph nodes and other organs of the body that are part of the body's immune and blood-producing systems. It has a better than 80 percent success rate of being cured when treated with radiation and/or chemotherapy.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank God, my wife and family and all of the doctors and staff who have encouraged and educated me through this as well as the entire Panthers organization for so much love and support," Fields said.

"To the fans, I want to say, 'I'll be back healthier and stronger than ever before,'" Fields said. "All of you are such a blessing. The support and prayers are truly appreciated."

Fields was a first-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 1995 out of Washington State. He spent six seasons with the Saints and played one year for the St. Louis Rams before Fox lured him to Carolina.

He immediately added the speed and mobility Fox was looking for on defense and was a major contributor to Carolina's rise from 31st in total defense to second in the most productive season in Fields' career.

Fields has recorded at least 100 tackles in six of his eight NFL seasons.

For now, free agent Greg Favors will fill in for Fields.

"We haven't begun to even think about what we'll do because all of our focus has been on Mark so far," Hurney said. "I imagine we'll address that later this week."