Hall of Fame baseball player Harmon Killebrew, one of the most feared power hitters of his time, begins what could be the toughest fight of his life. Killebrew has esophageal cancer and is being treated at the Mayo Clinic near his home in Arizona. Killebrew is also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as shown on this website listing known members of the LDS Church who played in the major leagues (some others are listed HERE).
Harmon Killebrew issued the following statement through the Minnesota Twins:
"With my wife, Nita, by my side, I have begun preparing for what is perhaps the most difficult battle of my life. I am being treated by a team of medical professionals at the Mayo Clinic. While my condition is very serious, I have confidence in my doctors and the medical staff, and I anticipate a full recovery. The Mayo Clinic is one of the largest and most experienced medical centers treating esophageal cancer in the world. In the past decade, they have made tremendous advances in the treatment of this disease."
The Minnesota Twins issued the following statement in response:
"Harmon Killebrew is a great man. The collective heart of the Twins family goes out to him and Nita as they begin the battle against this cancer. Harmon is universally loved, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and Nita throughout this ordeal. We ask that everyone send prayers Harmon's way as he begins the road to recovery."
Esophageal cancer forms in tissues lining the esophagus (the muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach). Two types of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma (cancer that begins in flat cells lining the esophagus) and adenocarcinoma (cancer that begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids). See a graphic of the esophagus HERE. Esophageal tumors usually lead to dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), heartburn-like pain and other symptoms, and are diagnosed with biopsy. Small and localized tumors are treated surgically with curative intent. Larger tumors tend not to be operable and hence are treated with palliative care; their growth can still be delayed with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or a combination of the two. In some cases chemo- and radiotherapy can render these larger tumors operable. Prognosis depends on the extent of the disease and other medical problems, but is fairly poor, because most people diagnosed with esophageal cancer have late-stage disease.
The 74-year-old Killebrew, who spent 21 seasons with the Washington Senators, the Minnesota Twins, and the Kansas City Royals, currently ranks 11th on the all-time major league home run list with 573, and his eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history with Babe Ruth. He was selected for the All-Star Game 11 times, and was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1969. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984. You can find his career statistics on Baseball Reference, and an expanded account of his life on Wikipedia.
Harmon Killebrew converted to the LDS Church in 1966. Throughout the years, he reportedly became less active, but continued to attend services from time to time and continues to believe in the doctrine. But while membership in the LDS Church provides a strategy for coping with adversity, it does not immunize one against adversity, because adversity is one of the most necessary instructors in mortality. In 1987, after 34 years of marriage to his first wife Elaine, which produced five children, he got divorced. A year later, his house was foreclosed, and he ran up $700,000 in debt. Soon after, Killebrew's health failed. In May 1990, he was rushed to the hospital with a collapsed lung and damaged esophagus. Together with a subsequent abscess and staph infection, Killebrew endured three surgeries and nearly died. He used a wheelchair for some time post-surgery. But by December 1990, his health was improved and he was remarried.
Harmon Killebrew is also considered one of the most beloved players in Twins history because of his gentle and approachable nature off the field. "I tell everybody he's too nice to be a baseball player," former teammate Tony Oliva said Thursday. "He's a gentleman." Killebrew lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he established his current business of Professional Endorsement through which he conducts his daily business of appearances and endorsements.