Throughout his cancer ordeal, while radiation was throwing him for a loop, Mariners third-base coach Jeff Datz used baseball as a major part of his therapy.
Though Datz has had to be temporarily replaced by Daren Brown in the coaching box since early May, he made sure to put on his Mariners uniform whenever possible. While the team was on homestands, Datz would take his normal turn throwing batting practice as well as hitting fungoes, maintaining some semblance of normalcy amidst the frightening disruption that cancer treatment causes.
“I tried to throw BP the whole time through radiation,’’ he said, talking publicly about his cancer for the first time. “I wanted to do that to say, ‘Hey, cancer, you’re not going to beat me.’ “
And now, finally, Datz can see an end in sight. Last Wednesday, he completed the rugged six-week regimen of radiation for his cancer, which was diagnosed as Level Two squamous-cell cancer on his neck.
Though the final week of radiation “kind of took a bite out of me,” Datz is eyeing a second-half return to the coaching box. Still looming ahead is an exam in early August and a scan in early September when, he said, “God willing, everything will be gone.”
Added Datz, “Six weeks of radiation, I don’t wish on anybody…You’re 53 and feel like why me at 53? But hey, man, let me tell you something. I’m walking in seeing 10-, 12-year old kids going through this and, wow, it’s rough.
“But they’re getting through it and fortunately I’ve come through it in not too bad of shape. I’m ready to go. I’ll be anxious when Sept. 6 comes and that scan comes back positive and all is clear and we’ll be good to go.”
Datz, who has had less serious episodes of skin cancer in the past, said the lump developed in spring training. He underwent initial testing in Arizona, but when the lump didn’t go away he received more stringent testing during the Mariners’ first homestand.
Datz eventually got three different opinions, two of which felt the cancer was skin related, and one that thought it was coming from his throat. He had his right tonsil removed, and underwent biopsies on his throat, nasal area and tongue.
They all came back clean, and Datz elected to have his treatment led by Dr. Kris Moe at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“It’s a life-changer, man,’’ he said. “It opens your eyes. With my skin cancer history, one minute you’re thinking positive and saying, this is local. They’ll cut it out and I’ll be good to go. It’s just another skin cancer. It’s a little deeper, but the next minute you’re thinking, with my skin cancer history I’m going to light up on these scans from head to toe and five minutes later you’re planning your funeral. It’s like ‘Woah.’
Datz lavished praise upon his doctors, the Mariners organization, manager Eric Wedge, the coaching staff and players for their support. But he reserved special praise for his family.
“My wife has put up with my different moods and frustration more than anybody,’’ he said. “She’s been great. Both my brothers back east came out. It’s just been amazing, the support from family, friends and people in baseball. All types of people all over this country have sent letters and calls and texts. It’s very nice. It’s a little setback, a little bump in the road. We’ll get through it. We’re getting through it. Then we’ll be good to go.”
He said his wife, Stacy, has helped him fend off his frustration.
“These guys are on the road and I’m sitting there watching on TV, throwing stuff and cussing and my wife says, ‘What’s going on?’ She’s taking the brunt of that because I’m not with the team and I’m sitting here at home while they’re on the road. That’s frustrating.
“But you have to take care of yourself at some point. We’ll go through it. Now it’s on the downside. Each and every day I hope to feel better and we’ll go from there. I’m fired up when the club is home and pulling like heck for them when they’re on the road. Now I’m almost good to go.”