Mike Schmidt's cancer battle raises awareness

A Philadelphia sports legend is talking about his battle with a deadly cancer - and its lessons for all of us.
March 17, 2014 2:45:40 PM PDT
A Philadelphia sports legend is talking about his battle with a deadly cancer - and its lessons for all of us.

Hall of Fame 3rd baseman Mike Schmidt revealed over the weekend that he had been diagnosed and treated for stage three melanoma. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer.

Stage three means the cancer cells spread from a mole to the lymphatic system, which can carry the cancer cells to other parts of the body.

He had many lymph nodes removed to prevent that, and his last scan showed he was free of cancer.

Schmidt hopes his story can help others.

Dr. Lynn Schuchter is head of the melanoma program at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center. She says having a notable athlete like Schmidt share his story about battling melanoma helps raise awareness.

"It's always hard for people to imagine something so little on their skin can cause so much trouble," Dr. Schucter says.

Melanoma starts in a mole and can then spread through the lymph nodes to other parts of the body.

Treating advanced stages of the cancer requires surgery - and in Schmidt's case, chemo and radiation.

He says it was a rough road, especially the chemo.

"I couldn't concentrate on anything, no taste buds, my voice was raspy," says Schmidt.

He also had surgery to remove 35 lymph nodes. He has an 8-inch scar as a reminder, and for a time had chills and restless leg syndrome.

Schmidt's cancer started on a mole on his back. That's commonly where it's found on men.

For women, melanoma is more likely to show on the arms or legs.

The number of cases of melanoma is growing, and some experts attribute that to the use of indoor tanning.

Doctor Schuchter says early detection is key.

Everyone should inspect their skin, look for changes to moles or freckles.

"There is this concept of the ugly duckling, what is standing out, what looks different," says Dr. Schucter.

And there are new tools now to help detect melanoma easier, as well as new drugs already approved and even more in the pipeline.

But nothing trumps protection and early detection.

Schmidt advises everyone to get checked out...especially if, like him you've spent a lot of time in the sun.

For more information on the Penn Medicine melanoma program, click here.

To learn more about melanoma, go to Melanoma Education Foundation or MayoClinic.org.


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