Opinion: Tony Gwynn was my father. Nine years after cancer robbed him, I’m still working to end the disease.

Gwynn Jr. is a broadcaster for the San Diego Padres and a former Major League Baseball player. He lives in Poway.

From a young age, my health, both mental and physical, has been an integral part of who I am as a person. I understood that whole body health, and caring for it, takes work and an understanding that every decision we make affects other parts of our bodies. Think of the old nursery rhyme, “Toe bone connects to foot bone, foot bone connects to ankle bone,” and you’ll get it.

My family never valued our health. In fact, it was inherent in every aspect of our lives, from daily basketball games with friends, to my sister and I playing various sports at Poway High School, to incorporating healthy activities into our off-season vacations. Not only do we understand the importance of health, but we also appreciate and respect the many gifts she has bestowed upon us. And unfortunately, we also came to understand just how fragile our health and our lives really were.

My father was our rock. He was our hero, our leader, and seemingly invincible. Who would have thought that the one enemy he couldn’t defeat would arrive in a small tin that would easily fit in his back pocket.

My father, Tony Gwynn Sr., became addicted to tobacco, like so many other Americans. His preferred method of use was, as the tin suggested, to place a stick of tobacco between his cheek and gums.

He started using smokeless tobacco as a young man, inspired by the fun and flirty advertising for the products (which seemingly appeared everywhere kids looked) and watching his favorite professional athletes coolly gnaw on a large chunk of the product before performing miraculous feats. on the baseball field. Once he tried it, the product did what it was designed to do – hooked him up for lifetime use.

Later in life Dad started to learn more about the dangers of smokeless tobacco and thought that quitting would be the right thing to do. He tried. Over and over, he tried. The siren in that can was just too attractive—and his body was saying he needed it. When an athlete’s body tells them it “needs” something, it’s almost impossible not to listen. This is addiction.

Lung Strength Walk 2023

Support and promote lung health.

When: January 29, 2023 at 7:30 am

Where: Liberty Station NTC Park, 2455 Cushing Rd, San Diego.

Registration: action.lung.org

In 2010 my dad felt a lump inside his right cheek near where his “chew” normally resided. As it did not quickly regress, he visited his doctor and was diagnosed with cancer of the parotid gland, one of the two salivary glands in the mouth. For the next four years he fought with all his might, but each remission was met with a recurrence and each treatment took a staggering toll. Up until this point, nothing had stolen the hopeful glint from my dad’s eyes or his famous huge smile. The cancer ended up doing just that, as the treatments caused a loss of nerve control over much of her face. My father’s omnipresent smile is gone, and our hero, Mr. Father, he was stolen from all of us way too soon in June 2014 at just 54 years old.

As devastated as my family was, we were equally committed to raising awareness of the dangers of tobacco and taking action so that other families in San Diego and across the country never have to live through this nightmare. We wanted people to understand Big Tobacco’s role in marketing to children. We call on amateur and professional sports organizations to stop tobacco use in stadiums, practice venues and beyond.

I continue this work today and recently joined the San Diego Local Leadership Board of the American Lung Association. I work to support his Lung Force initiative to raise awareness of lung cancer and raise funds to end the disease, which is now the deadliest cancer in San Diego and across the country. I am proud to report that over the past nine years, the Lung Force initiative has raised more than $26 million to support life-saving lung cancer education, advocacy and research.

One of the reasons why lung cancer is so deadly is because it is often detected too late. Lung cancer screening can help catch the disease early, when it is most likely to be curable. Annual screenings with low-dose CT scans can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20%, but unfortunately only 1% of California residents eligible due to risk factors were screened last year. We must do better.

My hope is that with your help, we can save the lives of everyday heroes in San Diego families. Join me on the American Lung Association Lung Force Walk in Liberty Station’s NTC Park at 7:30am Sunday morning. And, if you or a loved one smoked, visit savebythescan.org today to find out if you may be at high risk for lung cancer.

Opinion: Tony Gwynn was my father. Nine years after cancer robbed him, I’m still working to end the disease.

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