This morning on the “Dennis & Callahan with Minihane Show” during the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon, Schilling appeared in studio and revealed for the first time that he suffered from squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer of the mouth. Last February, Schilling announced that he was battling cancer, but did not reveal which type and kept the details of his treatment private. In June, he revealed the welcome news that his cancer is in remission.
In this exclusive interview, Schilling explained his thought process during the initial days of his diagnosis: “You know what the amazing thing was, and I was just dumfounded by it: You’ve just been told you have cancer, and you walk out into the public, and the world’s still going on,” he said. “It was really a challenge to wrap my head around that. My second thought was, ‘Wow, really? You think I can handle this, too, huh?'”
Schilling also revealed that he blames his 30-year addiction to chewing tobacco for his cancer. “I’ll go to my grave believing that was why I got what I got,” he admitted. “Absolutely. No question in my mind about that. … I do believe without a doubt, unquestionably, that chewing is what gave me cancer.”
As a fiercely dominating master of his craft during his 20-year playing career, Schilling was, and is, a role model for many baseball players from Little League to the MLB. While his admirers may try to mimic his mechanics, hopefully they never imitate some of his personal habits. In a voice much less commanding than the one for which he is known, Schilling excruciatingly explained the dreadful effects of his reliance on chewing tobacco and the tremendous suffering he endures for his years of refusing to quit:
“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.”
Just the sight of the feeble three-time World Series champion is enough to make any young ballplayer think twice about picking up the habit. Sipping constantly from a Gatorade bottle because he doesn’t have any saliva, Schilling carried out this interview with his typical strength and poise, but it was obvious that he has been to hell and back through this battle.
However weak his voice may be, his message to those using chewing tobacco was loud and clear: Stop now or suffer the devastating consequences.
And stick to Big League Chew.