Big League Chew, Major League Damage
Posted on Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Well, the Giants did it again last night and won their third World Series in 5 years!
And while the 2014 season is now all but history, baseball – maybe more than any other sport – basks in that history. As Lawrence Ritter once wrote, “The strongest thing that baseball has going for it today are its yesterdays.”
One of a recent yesterday’s greats – Curt Schilling – drew some extra attention last week courtesty of an interview in which he spoke about his having oral cancer. Like ex-Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, this 6 time All-Star and 3 time World Series champ was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, which started in one of his tonsils, then spread to a lymph node in his neck. He attributes it to chewing tobacco.
“I never ever threw a pitch with a dip in my mouth,” Schilling said. “I knew it wasn’t good for you. I didn’t want to be dehydrated.
“But if you go back and look, after every single game I pitched, the first thing I did when I got to the dugout was put one in.
“I didn’t wait. I couldn’t wait.”
Though as we noted before, seldom if ever is a condition like cancer the result of a single factor, tobacco use does major league damage on many levels – which may be compounded by conventional medical treatments, as well. If ESPN’s sobering summary of the damage doesn’t at least give pause, we’re not sure what it would take to convince a person that tobacco use is a terrible idea.
What followed was a 5-month ordeal in which brutal radiation and chemotherapy treatments left Schilling sobbing like a child, demoralized by the excruciating pain. He lost more than 70 pounds, developed a staph infection that could have killed him, endured two bouts of pneumonia, a bacterial infection in his intestines and multiple excruciating flare-ups of oral thrush, and wrestled with depression that required hospitalization and therapy.
His scars are internal, imperceptible to the human eye, but his mouth is ravaged by 30 years of chewing tobacco. Even before his cancer was detected, Schilling had decimated his taste buds by dipping. The radiation and chemotherapy have since destroyed his salivary glands.
Schilling doesn’t eat in public because he can’t be certain that his windpipe will close properly. Sometimes food seeps into his lungs and leaves him prone to infection. Other times he chokes, coughs his meal back up, then starts over again. Dining requires careful, methodical chewing, reducing his food to a pasty substance, much like baby food. “I don’t swallow normally anymore,” Schilling explained.
We wish Curt and his family the best, and sincerely hope that his sharing his experience so frankly will help keep others from having to go through anything like it themselves.