Schilling: Tobacco gave me cancer

Curt Schilling

Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling revealed Wednesday for the first time the type of cancer he was battling -- squamous cell carcinoma, a type of mouth cancer -- and detailed the painful treatment and recovery process that caused him to lose 75 pounds.

Telling his story for the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon on Wednesday morning, Schilling said he believes that a 30-year habit of chewing tobacco is what caused the cancer.

"I do believe, without a doubt, unquestionably that chewing was what gave me cancer," he said. "I'm not going to sit up here from the pedestal and preach about chewing."

The 47-year-old Schilling said he spent six months in the hospital with a feeding tube, undergoing chemotherapy and painful radiation treatment. During that time, he said, he developed a staph infection and there was a week of his life he doesn't remember.

"I got chemo and radiation for [seven] weeks, and I came back to my room and my family was sitting there and I thought, 'You know what, this could be so much worse. This could be one of my kids,'" Schilling said. "I'm the one guy in this family that can handle this. From that perspective, I've never said 'Why me?' and I never will."

The most painful part of the treatment, he said, was the radiation, which he received five days per week for seven weeks. Schilling said doctors created a pliable mask to put on his face, an implement the former pitcher said was "the straitjacket for when they are giving you radiation."

"The first day I went in, they clamped [the mask] down, they do the radiation into the tumors," Schilling said. "The second day they did it. And about the third day I started developing almost a phobia and I literally had to be medicated for the seven weeks to go and do that. I couldn't control myself under the mask."

He added: "If this happened again, I'm not sure if I would go through the treatment again, it was that painful."

Schilling said he's lost so much weight because it is still painful to swallow -- "I can't put enough calories in my body" -- and he is still shaky and weak at times.

He paused several times during the interview to take sips of water (he says he still does not have any saliva), and his voice sounded different than we're used to hearing from Schilling. He is currently on leave from his job as an analyst on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball telecast.

"Recovery is a challenge," Schilling said. "There are so many things that are damaged during the process. I don't have any salivary glands, I can't taste anything and I can't smell anything right now. And there's no guarantee they'll come back."

Schilling reiterated that the cancer was in remission, a statement he tweeted to the world for the first time in June, and that his follow-up care includes doctor visits every 1-2 months and scans every few months to determine if the cancer has returned.

He described how he first discovered the cancer over the winter.

"This all came about from a dog bite," Schilling explained.

He said the dog bite damaged his finger enough to send him to the doctor. On his way to see the physician, he felt a lump on the left side of his neck and decided to get it checked out with a nearby ear, nose and throat specialist.

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