Never one to be short of words, the outspoken Curt Schilling has always thrived on the big stage.
He helped pitch the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series in 1993, and won World Series championships with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Boston Red Sox.
His career postseason record of 11–2 ranks first all-time among pitchers with at least 10 decisions.
On Wednesday, the 47-year-old Schilling announced that he has been battling oral cancer, which makes even the World Series game seem minimal in comparison to such a life-altering event.
After suffering a dog bite on his finger last February, Schilling was on his way to see a doctor when he rubbed his neck and felt a lump on the left side. Two days later it was diagnosed as squamous cell carcinoma.
Schilling blames chewing tobacco, which he used for about 30 years, as the addictive habit that led to his cancer. At the time, he said it relaxed him to just sit back and have a dip. The bleeding gums weren't enough to make him quit.
The pain he's experienced during treatments over the last six months, however, has made him wish he'd never touched tobacco.
Three years ago, in the Times News Healthy Geezer column, we were given some insight on smokeless tobacco use. A female writer asked how she could persuade her husband to quit chewing tobacco.
The answer was to inform him that chewing tobacco, like all other forms of smokeless tobacco, contains about 30 cancer-causing substances. These cancers can grow in your mouth, throat, esophagus, kidneys and pancreas. The cancers can kill you or leave you disfigured from surgery.
We also learned that smokeless tobacco puts more nicotine in your blood than cigarettes. Holding an average-size wad of smokeless tobacco in your mouth for a half-hour provides as much nicotine as smoking three cigarettes.
Tobacco is responsible for about 480,000 deaths a year in the U.S. and in 1986, the Surgeon General concluded that the use of smokeless tobacco "is not a safe substitute for smoking cigarettes. It can cause cancer and a number of noncancerous conditions and can lead to nicotine addiction and dependence."
The share of Americans who smoke has fallen dramatically since 1970, from nearly 40 percent to about 18 percent, but the rate has stalled over the last decade, and there are still about 44 million adults in the U.S. smoking cigarettes.
Schilling's cancer is in remission but the treatments have taken a physical toll. Before treatments he weighed just over 200 pounds but he's now lost 75 pounds.
Most of the weight loss was due to the fact that he was unable to swallow. He has also lost his ability to taste and smell.
Hopefully, these grim facts plus the personal testimonies of celebrity athletes like Schilling and Tony Gwynn, who died earlier this year, will make others consider the hard realities of an addiction that can shorten their lifespan or at least, affect their quality of life.
By Jim Zbick