Especially thankful this Mother's Day
Breast cancer scare puts life in perspective for Tomko
LOS ANGELES -- In a matter of days last month, Brett Tomko's mother, Donna, emerged from successful breast cancer surgery and his wife, Julia, learned she was pregnant for the first time.
"This will be a very special Mother's Day," said Tomko. "Our family is blessed."
Not that he needs a holiday to appreciate Mom.
"Mother's Day is always special for me, but I don't wait for Mother's Day to thank her for all she's done," said the Dodgers pitcher. "My Mom made a lot of sacrifices while we were growing up, getting us equipment, driving us to games, whatever we needed, we got. Then you stare something like cancer in the face and you realize how valuable life is. But I guess I've always realized it. That's why I always call my parents when I get on a plane. You realize you can't take anything for granted, especially that your parents will always be there. I just feel fortunate that she's going to beat it."
That's what doctors told Tomko following last month's surgery, that they caught it in time, thanks in part to some badgering from her sons.
"She hadn't gone to the doctor for four years," said Tomko. "My brother and I were on her. She's 64 and I told her she was getting a little older and she should be checked out more and she finally agreed, just to appease us and they saw something on the X-ray. They did a biopsy. She knew before I went out to pitch but didn't tell me until after the game. She didn't want it to affect me."
Tomko said that was typically unselfish of his mother.
"My mom was president of Little League," he said. "She's always been active in what my brother and I have done. She's a huge baseball fan. It's been good being at home. She's been watching all the games. It's been therapeutic for her. [When they could make it, they were] at every game I pitched in college and junior college. She would travel to random cities during the season to visit and watch games. She enjoys watching me pitch. She leaves work early to watch the games on TV. She's a die-hard fan."
But after her exam, she had to pass along the news to Brett. It was a call he'll never forget.
"We've always been a very solid family and she's been the rock of the family. To hear her cry, that was tough for me, because she's always been the complete opposite," he said.
"You never want to see your parents suffer or hurt. And it was tough the whole weekend when we had to wait before she got the results and the full extent of it. You wonder how bad it is. When you hear cancer, the reaction is I could die without knowing how bad it is. But the nurse we talked to was very caring and she said we caught it in the very early stages and when we heard that it relaxed the whole family.
"So on a Friday, we met with the surgeon and got the specifics. He said it was one of the smallest he's seen in 20 years, it was in the first stage and that made us all feel better. A week later, she had the surgery. That was a stressful day. We were all there, my brother and my wife and my dad. We were at the hospital at 6:45 in the morning. But it turned out to be a great day. The cancer hadn't spread. That was a huge relief. An hour later, we were taking her home. It was crazy. She was great. She seems to have more energy than before the surgery."
Tomko said the combination of his mother's cancer and his wife's pregnancy has helped put baseball in its rightful place.
"The game I pitched in Pittsburgh was a bad game (a 9-5 loss on April 12) and you don't want to do badly, but it's a game," he said. "I know guys who have kids with illnesses and they say how that puts the game in perspective. It's your job and it's your living, but a lot of things are more important. This is my family, my parents. One bad game, a couple of home runs, you can brush that off and focus on the important things. It's changed me a little bit. I have a bad game, it's over with. A lot of people have a lot of problems bigger to deal with. Giving up a home run is not the end of the world."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.