Duke Cancer Institute Notes
Published: July 9, 2007
Updated: Dec. 3, 2010
Former Duke Baseball Player -- and Cancer Survivor -- Thriving in Major Leagues
The New York Mets have high hopes for relief pitcher Scott Schoeneweis, an off-season acquisition. After being traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Cincinnati Reds in August of 2006, he had a great end to the season. This year looks even better for the left hander.
Life for Schoeneweis (pronounced SHOWN-wice) seems far removed from that of a cancer patient. Still, his diagnosis of testicular cancer in 1993 as a freshman at Duke made an impact on him that reverberates today.
“As a college student, I felt invincible,” says Schoeneweis. “But in a moment’s notice, everything changed.”
During a routine physical exam before his sophomore year, the baseball team’s physician felt a lump on one of Schoeneweis’ testicles. After further tests, Duke urologist and NCI-designated researcher Cary Robertson, MD, diagnosed Schoeneweis with testicular cancer. The cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in his pelvis.
Testicular cancer is rare, only accounting for approximately one percent of the cancers in men. Unlike many types of cancer, men who have testicular cancer are usually relatively young -- usually between 20 and 39 years old. Testicular cancer, especially if diagnosed early, can usually be treated successfully, with more than 95 percent of men cured.
“I recall his parents and coach in the waiting room very concerned about Scott and what was going to be done next,” says Robertson, who remembers the situation very well. Schoeneweis underwent surgery at Duke to remove the cancerous testicle and then received chemotherapy, which was the standard course of treatment at the time.
“In the last 15 years or so, there has been a stronger interest in using chemotherapy as the primary therapy and not perform surgery as often,” explains Robertson. “However, in early-stage testicular cancer, surgery, chemotherapy, and even surveillance should all be discussed as options for men to consider.” Robertson is a member of a National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s Clinical Practice Guideline panel for testicular cancer, which advises oncologists on treatments for testicular cancer patients.
“I worried about my health and about my life,” says Schoeneweis. “But I remember that even with the effects of chemotherapy, I wanted to pitch again soon.”
Schoeneweis came back to pitch -- but not at full strength -- for much of his sophomore season. “Considering the circumstances, Scott had a very good year,” says Steve Traylor, the head coach for Duke’s baseball team at that time. Then Schoeneweis blew out his elbow, forcing him to get surgery and spend more time away from baseball. These two circumstances might have ended some careers, but not Schoeneweis’. He was not going to be denied and never had a “pity party,” according to Traylor.
Schoeneweis struggled on the field during his junior year, but things were different during his senior season. The promise that he showed during his freshman year returned and he won 10 games. His 90 mile-per-hour fastballs re-emerged. Even with all the obstacles, Schoeneweis has a lifetime ranking of first for wins and starts, and is second for strikeouts at Duke. After his senior season, he was drafted in the third round by the California Angels, the highest draft pick for a Blue Devil in 20 years.
It has been nearly 14 years since his diagnosis, and today Schoeneweis is totally healthy. “I feel perfect, and I’ve been fine since leaving Duke,” he says from the locker room of the Mets, where he recently signed a reported three-year, almost $11 million contract to work in the bullpen.
Since graduating from Duke in 1996 with a history degree, Schoeneweis has had a successful major league career, playing on five different teams, and winning the World Series with the Angels in 2002. “While winning the World Series was great, I was always worried that I would never be able to have children,” he says. “It’s great seeing my kids grow.” Schoeneweis is married and has three children.
Schoeneweis admits that he’s always had a good work ethic, but to get through the cancer and chemotherapy he had to work even harder. “While it’s not the easiest thing to do, you need to stay positive and be optimistic,” the 33-year-old Schoenewewis says. “Let the drugs do their thing, and you can’t give up. You can’t give up on your life.”