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.
Reporting to WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon today, Schilling revealed that he believes his 30-year chewing tobacco habit contributed to his 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.”
47-year-old Curt 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.”
He said that the most painful part of the treatment was the radiation which he underwent five days a week, for seven weeks. It was so bad that doctors had to implement a “mask” which acted as a straightjacket for the 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.”
Curt 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.”
“This all came about from a dog bite,” Schilling explained.
Curt Schilling 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.
“He did a biopsy and two days later he diagnosed me with squamous cell carcinoma,” Schilling said.
It is the same type of cancer former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly is suffering from.
“Commonly this is known as mouth cancer … cancer of the lining of the mouth,” said Schilling’s physician, Dr. Robert Haddad of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. “The lump in the neck is why most patients go to the doctor first because they feel the lump in the neck, that’s the lymph node that’s enlarged.”
“It was weird,” Schilling explained of the appearance. “I was in the hospital at the time. They wouldn’t let me come over [to Fenway] and go back [to the hospital]. So I had to determine if I was OK and ready to be discharged. I said ‘Yeah, yeah, OK.’ And two days later I was back in the hospital. That’s why [my son] Gehrig walked out with me, because I was afraid I was going to fall on the way in because I was so discombobulated.”
He was asked Wednesday why he has stayed out of the spotlight in recent months, choosing only now to talk about it for the first time.
“I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me,” he said. “I didn’t want the pity, I didn’t want any of that stuff.”
The six-time All-Star finished with a career record of 216-146 and a 3.46 ERA. His 3,116 strikeouts rank 15th all time. He won two World Series titles with the Red Sox and one with the Diamondbacks.
We wish nothing but the best to Curt Schilling and our thoughts are with him and his family.
For all of the latest Arizona Diamondbacks news, stick with us at Heat Waved and check back daily to read more about your favorite Arizona teams.