Curt Schilling, who won 216 games in 20 major league seasons, announced Wednesday on WEEI radio in Boston his belief that a recent bout with cancer was caused by chewing tobacco.
Schilling, who declared victory over cancer in February, had not disclosed the type of cancer until this week. Schilling’s wife Shonda was diagnosed with stage-2 melanoma in 2001.
Schilling said he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, cancer of the mouth, during the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon.
“I didn’t talk about it for two reasons: No. 1, I didn’t want to get into the chewing tobacco debate, which I knew was going to come about, which to me, I’ll go to my grave believing that was why I got what I got,” he said. “Absolutely, no question in my mind about that. And the second thing was I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. I didn’t want the pity or any of that stuff because early on… I ended up spending about six months in the hospital because I had a bad reaction. I had a staph infection. I had what’s called C. diff. I had a couple different problems and there was a week there, there’s a week of my life I don’t remember while I was in the hospital going through this.”
In his career, Schilling, 47, pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Red Sox. He went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA. His 3,116 strikeouts rank 15th all-time in the majors. Schilling was a key pitcher on three World Series-winning teams — 2001 with the Diamondbacks and 2004 and 2007 with the Red Sox. He was at Fenway Park for the 2004 World Series team’s 10-year celebration recently and the effects of chemotherapy were evident.
Last year, Schilling revealed that he had a heart attack in November 2011 and had surgery to place a stent in one of his arteries.
Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn died in June after a bout with cancer of the salivary glands. Gwynn used smokeless tobacco, though his cancer was never directly linked to chewing.
“I did (chewing tobacco) for about 30 years. It was an addictive habit,” Schilling said. “I can think of so many times in my life when it was so relaxing to just sit back and have a dip and do whatever, and I lost my sense of smell, my taste buds for the most part. I had gum issues, they bled, all this other stuff. None of it was enough to ever make me quit. The pain that I was in going through this treatment, the second or third day it was the only thing in my life that had that I wish I could go back and never have dipped. Not once. It was so painful.”