Oral Cancer Strikes Again

On the heels of the loss of one of baseball’s all-time greats, Tony Gwynn, yet another baseball legend has been brought down by the sport’s dirtiest little secret. According to a recent Dr.Bicuspid article, Curt Schilling, former Boston Red Sox pitcher, has announced that he has been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, blaming his 30 year addiction to chewing tobacco. Schilling is the latest in a long line of professional baseball players who have been negatively affected by the bad habit so heavily associated with the sport.

Schilling’s story began last February when he discovered a lump on the left side of his neck. He claims that he immediately knew something was wrong, and after an immediate biopsy, his worst nightmare was realized. But the signs of cancer had been there long before. According to Schilling himself, he had lost his ability to taste and smell while using chewing tobacco and even experienced bleeding gums. But he claims he was too addicted to quit and ignored the symptoms. After diagnosis, Schilling began treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, where he ended up being hospitalized for six months due to a staph infection. While receiving chemoradiation therapy, Schilling’s weight dropped from about 200 pounds down to around 125 pounds, as he lost the ability to swallow. According to the baseball legend, the most painful part of treatment was radiation, which he received five days a week for over seven weeks. A pliable mask was created for him in order to protect his face, but after he developed a phobia for it, he had to be medicated to continue treatment.

Fortunately, Curt Schilling is now in remission, but not everyone ends up that lucky. Over 40 thousand Americans die from oral cancer every year, begging the question, why is chewing tobacco (a major risk factor for developing the deadly cancer) so accepted in baseball culture? The players’ labor agreement apparently includes certain limits on the use of smokeless tobacco, but does not ban it entirely. While teams are not permitted to provide tobacco for players, and they are not allowed to carry it in their uniforms, they are still welcome to openly use it during games. Recently, several health organizations have started campaigning for Major League Baseball and the players’ union to prohibit the use of all tobacco products at ballparks and on camera, with little or no effect as of yet. With persistence and time, however, hopefully this harmful habit will become a thing of the past and be eliminated from one of America’s greatest pastimes.

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