A profile in courage
Survivor Shonda Schilling is a tireless cancer research advocate
BOSTON -- After Shonda Schilling got through the initial shock of learning she had skin cancer in spring of 2001, she had to find a way to cope with her own situation, shielding her day-to-day stress from her famous husband while all the time raising three children.
In other words, she did what every mother does -- what's best for the family.
"With me, it wasn't about courage," she recalled last weekend in an interview with MLB.com. "I had three kids, so I had to focus my attention on those three kids -- they were five, three and one. And I was so worried about Curt having a bad season because of me.
"I didn't want that pressure because he was there with Randy [Johnson] and it was written in the cards that they were supposed to win the World Series. And here, right off the bat in Spring Training this happens. So I was worried about how I was going to interfere with what was supposed to happen," said Schilling, who is now the mother of four: Gehrig, Gabriella, Grant and Garrison.
Schilling realized there was something wrong when she had a constant burning and itching in the middle of her back. She had it examined and doctors confirmed that she had stage II malignant melanoma. The summer of 2001 became months filled with pressure games, family and constant trips to the hospital for surgery and tests.
She suddenly realized she was in a potential life-and-death battle of her own.
"Without health, it doesn't matter how much money or fame you have," she said. "It cannot fix those things. Money can do some things. There are some angry people in the world who say, 'Oh, she got melanoma but she has money.' Let me tell you the first thought that came to my mind when we started talking survival rate wasn't, 'Hey, it's OK, my kids will be taken care of.' It's that I may leave this world.
"The one thing I learned, whether you're stage one or stage four, it consumes your life. Your life comes to a screeching halt and it goes on without you and it's going to continue to go on without you and that's a really hard thing to swallow, that you may leave this earth."
Since recovering from the disease, Schilling and her husband have been tireless advocates for cancer research, highlighted by the creation in August 2002 of the SHADE Foundation (www.shadefoundation.org), an organization committed to raising funds to fight and treat melanoma.
"I think for me, with melanoma, one of the things I felt like was that people didn't realize it was a real cancer and this fear I had of dying. You could tell by the looks on their faces, you could tell by the things they were saying that they just didn't believe that people could die from this. For me, I was giving those people who had lost loved ones a voice because they were approaching me in airports and ballparks and schools and everywhere I went and saying to me, 'Please make people understand, I lost my mother,' or 'lost my daughter,' so I feel I've been given a voice and I'm trying to make people understand so they don't go through it."
On this and every Mother's Day, Schilling feels an obligation to say a prayer of thanks for her chance to continue raising a family and a prayer for those who weren't so lucky.
"I go through a period where I hear of two or three kids [dying] in their 20s and I feel like I don't do enough," she said.
"I think that has always been the message in our house, that we're all put here on this earth to take care of each other and hopefully they realize that by giving they're getting a lot more back in return -- in giving, in being a friend. A friend of mine went through colon cancer last year and it was about keeping in touch and how you keep in touch and how that affects the rest of the family."
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.