Curt Schilling, the former Red Sox pitcher who helped lead Boston to the 2004 World Series championship, revealed Wednesday that he was treated for mouth cancer. He shared the news in an appearance on WEEI’s Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon, and said he believed his cancer was caused by chewing tobacco.
“I didn’t talk about it for two reasons,” said Schilling. “No. 1, I didn’t want to get into the chewing tobacco debate, which I knew was going to come about, which to me I’ll go to my grave believing that was why I got what I got.
“And the second thing was I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, I didn’t want the pity.”
Schilling announced he was diagnosed with cancer in February and stepped away from his role as an ESPN baseball analyst. In June, he said it was in remission.
He urged listeners not to wait to seek help if they suspect they have a medical issue.
“I literally went to see a doctor, like, five days after I felt a lump, and he said the average time for a patient is 10 months — 10 months from the time they notice something to the time they say something,” Schilling said. “I can’t believe people need to be more self-aware.”
Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died in June at age 54 as a result of salivary gland cancer, which he also attributed to chewing tobacco during his playing days.
“I’m not going to sit up here from the pedestal and preach about chewing,” Schilling said. “I will say this: I dipped for about 30 years, and it was an addictive habit that I can think of so many times in my life when it was so relaxing to 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 that I was in going through this treatment, the second or third day, it was the first thing I had in my life that I wished I could go back and never have dipped. Not once.”
The 2011 labor agreement between Major League Baseball and the players’ union included some limits on the use of smokeless tobacco, but did not ban its use entirely. Players can’t carry tobacco packages in their uniform pockets, and tobacco use during televised interviews and non-game functions is prohibited. Also, teams cannot provide tobacco to players.
Many Red Sox players interviewed for a Globe story in May acknowledged knowing the risks of chewing tobacco but were unwilling to give it up. Some said they used it only during baseball season.
Schilling, 47, played 20 seasons in the majors for five teams from 1988 to 2007. He came to the Red Sox in 2004, and was also a member of their 2007 World Series-winning team. An All-Star six times, his career record is 216-146.