Off-season cancer scare for Jays’ Gibbons

March 26, 2013, 1:13 PM

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has made the application of sunscreen a regular part of his daily routine this spring after a scare with a non-fatal form of skin cancer during the off-season.

At a regular checkup with a dermatologist back in early October, the 50-year-old learned he had a basal cell carcinoma where the right side of his nose meets the cheek. Though it was tough to spot on his face, the growth was the size of a dime beneath the surface and had the potential to badly disfigure him had it not been caught when it did.

“The doctor said, ‘I got a little concerned because the way it was growing was up towards your eye,’” recalled Gibbons. “They got it all, but that’s the way it is, it could look like a little something, but underneath it’s big.”

The removal procedure came later that month, roughly three weeks before he was named manager of the Blue Jays for the second time. His dermatologist took a sample of the growth during Gibbons’ first visit for a biopsy, and called him a few days later to reveal the news.

While the word cancerous can be frightening, he was quickly relieved to find it was, “not the kind that kills you.”

A follow-up session was scheduled for its removal, which calls for a numbing of the area and the digging out of the growth. Gibbons was awake the whole time. “There was no pain but I could feel him tugging, I was like, ‘Whoa, hey doc, go easy,’” Gibbons said with a grin. “They go in and cut away around the margins until they get it all. He takes a little slice of it and goes to the microscope, about 30 minutes later he comes back and needed to take more. He did that three times, until finally he got it all.”

Basal cell carcinomas are the most common form of cancer, according to the New York based Skin Cancer Foundation’s website, and they’re usually caused by “a combination of cumulative UV exposure and intense, occasional UV exposure.”

Prior to this spring, Gibbons never applied sunscreen before taking the field. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and Gibbons has had some experience with that, too. During his previous stint as Blue Jays manager, a small mole was discovered up against the pupil of his right eye, and while it isn’t dangerous, it’s monitored regularly in case it starts growing.

Combined, he’s got good reason to be more cautious now when he’s outside. Everyone in baseball from players and on-field personnel to scouts and front office staff spend countless hours in the sun daily, leaving them at risk, something that’s hit home for Gibbons. “Oh yeah, it gets your attention,” he said. “Even though it’s something minor, it gets your attention.”

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