Dear 16-year-old Curt,
Tomorrow at lunch, a kid is going to dare you to take a dip of Copenhagen. If you say yes, like I did, you’ll be addicted for the rest of your life. Well, the rest of your life up to the point when you are diagnosed with cancer.
I get what you’re thinking. You’re 16 — you’re invincible, just like all your buddies. If you were to jump ahead 33 years, you couldn’t write a better dream than the one your life is going to be.
With one exception.
If you say yes tomorrow, you will become addicted to chewing tobacco and you will get mouth cancer.
I’m going to tell you a little story that I think may help guide you. (I saw this on a TV series called The West Wing — great show, you’re going to love it one day — and it very much rings true).
There was a man — we’ll call him Joe. Joe lived in the same house his entire life. One day, a huge storm came. He turned on the radio: Prepare for torrential rains and deadly flash flooding. Everyone should evacuate to safety immediately.
See, Joe was a devout Christian. He had the Lord in his life for as long as he could remember. Church every Sunday, prayed twice a day.
“My faith in God is resolute. He will save me,” Joe thought.
The rain kept coming down.
About two hours later, water began to flood his house, so he scrambled on to the roof.
After a half-hour, with the water rising rapidly, a boat sputtered up to Joe’s house, which was now partially submerged.
Boat driver: “Come on down, I will take you to safety!”
Joe sat calmly on his roof.
Joe: “No thanks! My faith in God is strong, God will save me!”
So the boat sped off.
Another hour went by, and the water had risen to the roof.
A helicopter flew over, saw Joe and swooped down, dropping down a rope.
Helicopter pilot: “Grab a hold! I will pull you up!”
Joe: “No thank you! My faith in the Lord is strong. He will save me!!”
The man looked awkwardly at what he could only guess was someone who’d lost his mind. The helicopter flew off.
About 10 minutes later the water overtook Joe’s roof, so he swam out into the strong current. It quickly pulled him below.
When Joe opened his eyes, he saw the Lord standing at the gates of Heaven.
“Joe, what on earth are you doing here??”
“I was just about to ask you that very question, Father,” Joe replied.
“Wait… what?” says God.
“Father I have had Faith in you since my first memory. I have prayed morning and night to you. I have sinned, but you know that in my heart I have asked for forgiveness and tried my hardest to do right by you.”
“Yes, Joe I know in your heart you are a good, honest and loving man.”
“Then why did you let me die?” Joe asked.
“I sent you a radio message, a boat and a helicopter! What more did you want?”
I tell you, 16-year-old me, that story for a very important reason. From tomorrow forward, you will be given the same signs that Joe was given a hundred times over. Many will be far more insightful and far more telling than the ones he received.
You will develop sores, you will lose your sense of taste and smell. You will develop lesions. You will lose your gums — they will rot. You will have problems with your teeth for the rest of your life.
You will meet men — many good, honest men — who chewed. None of them will have their entire face. They will be missing jaws, chins, cheeks, noses and more. None will live more than a year or two after you meet them. All of them were tobacco chewers.
You will meet Joe Garigiola. He will introduce you to Bill Tuttle. Bill will have no lower face. His entire lower jaw is gone. It was that, or die of mouth cancer. Well, not “that or,” because that mouth cancer would kill him inside of two years.
You will brush your teeth and your mouth will bleed. Not light blood from your gums, but darker blood from deeper inside your mouth. That’s the chew destroying your tissue. You will get message after message, but your addiction will always win, until it wins the biggest battle.
You will get message after message, but your addiction will always win, until it wins the biggest battle
If you say yes tomorrow, you will begin to kill yourself from the inside out. It’s difficult for you to understand in this current phase of your life, but by chewing tobacco, you are jeopardizing your participation in what will be some of your most important moments.
You will risk any chance of seeing your four amazing children graduate high school. You will potentially lose the opportunity to walk your daughter Gabriella (who, like her dad, will be blessed with simple yet outstanding pitching mechanics) down the aisle. You will risk not seeing Gehrig, your oldest son, pitch for four years at a New England college. You may miss your son Grant graduating high school and changing the world. And you may be absent as your youngest son Garrison — who aspires to follow in your father’s footsteps and join the army — masterfully plays goalie with a remarkable passion.
You could miss the most important and rewarding days of your life with your beautiful wife Shonda.
If cancer kills you, what are you leaving them with? What are you leaving them for?
Your dad is going to die in five years. You know what’s going to kill him? A heart attack brought on by heart disease and lung cancer caused by tobacco use. He’ll die right in front of you. You two will be alone and together for his final minutes on earth. The night before he passes away, you two are going to sit up and talk until 4 a.m. You will chalk up the conversation as peculiar, but years later it will hit you like a ton of bricks. It will hit you like a radio message, boat or helicopter. He knew. It’s why the things he told you that night were things only a dad can tell a son. He knew.
Right now, you don’t listen to the messages God gives you. And if you don’t alter this habit, in 32 years you will be diagnosed with cancer.
Finally, consider this: How many kids will start dipping over the next 32 years because they saw you do it?
Do you want that on you? No?
Then my advice is simple. Tomorrow, at lunch, just say no.
Make the right choice,
Schilling currently serves as an on-air analyst for Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. Shonda Schilling is running the 119th Boston Marathon on April 20 as part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team to support Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where Curt received treatment for cancer last year. Click here to contribute to Shonda’s run.