Former major league pitcher Curt Schilling, in remission from mouth cancer, told WEEI radio in Boston on Wednesday morning that he'll "go to his grave" believing he got sick because he chewed smokeless tobacco for 30 years.
Schilling, who turns 48 in November, lost 75 pounds during his treatment, and also has lost his senses of taste and smell. Schilling announced in June that he was in remission after saying in February he had cancer, though he had offered few other details until now. Grateful for being given time to heal and reflect, Schilling expanded on his personal story on the radio during a fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund, the juvenile charity with whom the Boston Red Sox partner.
Schilling used chewing tobacco for three decades, something he now greatly regrets.
“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. … I do believe without a doubt, unquestionably, that chewing is what gave me cancer.”
Added Schilling: “I’m not going to sit up here from the pedestal and preach about chewing. I will say this: I did for about 30 years. It was an addictive habit. I can think about 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 I was in going through this treatment, the second or third day, it was the first thing and the only thing in my life that I’ve ever had that I wish I could go back and never have dipped. Not once. It was so painful.”
Also worth noting: Schilling's wife, Shonda, is a skin cancer survivor.
Major League Baseball lost Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to cancer earlier this year. Gwynn also believed his salivary gland cancer was related to consuming tobacco, though doctors aren't sure of the linkage in cases such as Gwynn's. In Schilling's case, he believes chewing tobacco has cost him dearly, and still might cost him everything.
Schilling, co-MVP of the 2001 World Series when he pitched for the the Arizona Diamondbacks, went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 career postseason starts. He struck out 3,116 batters and posted a 3.46 ERA in 569 career regular-season appearances with the D-backs, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles. Though his personal win total would be low for the Hall of Fame and probably has cost him votes the past two elections, Schilling certainly was one of the best pitchers of his era.
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