02/14/2003 7:54 pm ET
Lowe now 'nose' to use sunscreen
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Aside from a scar on his nose, it would be easy for Derek Lowe to forget the skin cancer that rudely interrupted his winter. The Red Sox right-hander doesn't feel any lingering pain, and he was able to catch up on his conditioning program.
As Sox pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday, Lowe was ready to go at full speed. There will be no limitations. The Dec. 31 surgery was obviously a success.
However, what Lowe encountered this winter will serve as far more than just a blip on his radar screen.
Every morning now, when Lowe wakes up, he brushes his teeth and then applies sunscreen to his face. It has become a part of his daily routine. And more important, Lowe wants to spread his message in order to help prevent others from getting skin cancer.
"It's an opportunity to talk to people, to talk to kids," said Lowe, coming off a bust-out, 21-8 season. "If I can help one or two kids along the way, great. It's an awareness thing. It's more men than anything, saying, 'I don't need sunblock. I can bear through it.' But you do [need it]. You have to worry about your future, which I never did until now. It's an opportunity to talk to people about it. It's something kids should understand, the risk of sun."
With fair skin and a Michigan upbringing, Lowe, who lives in Fort Myers during the winter, was in a precarious spot without sunscreen. And now, he realizes it.
Lowe began to realize something might be wrong in mid-November, when he noticed what looked like a pimple on the tip of his nose.
So why didn't he just pop it?
"Mine was so big I just couldn't pull it off. It was so big, and the pain was miserable. I'd touch it, and my eyes would water. It started off clear, and it was always big, and it just escalated," Lowe said. "After a week, it really grew. I had no idea what it was. Cancer never came into the equation."
But concern wouldn't go away. Especially with Lowe's frequent walks to the mirror.
"It stuck out about a half inch," Lowe said, "and right on the tip of my nose. I looked just like Rudolph. It was red and had a black tip. I have pictures."
Finally, at the urging of his wife and many friends, Lowe went to the doctor in December.
"Any time you go to a doctor and they say you've got cancer, [it's scary]," said Lowe. "But he was quick to say, 'It's not melanoma; it's not going throughout your body. It's in an isolated area.' So he went in there and did what he had to do. I'll have the scar for about a year."
The surgery was no simple procedure. It took more than three hours and required between 40 and 50 stitches.
"At first, they didn't think it was growing down deep. But it did end up growing down deep. Initially I was going to get a skin graft, where they take skin from behind your ears and put it on your nose," Lowe said. "Because it was going deeper, they cut me between my eyes and pulled all my skin down. I woke up, and they said, 'We didn't have to do a skin graft.' I'm thinking, 'Beautiful!'
"Well, I get in to the room, and the doctor says, 'Let me show you what it looks like.' You have bags under your eyes and stitches all the way down. For 10 days, I had to stay inside. But the doctor did a phenomenal job."
The main sacrifice Lowe had to make after the surgery was putting a halt to his physical conditioning for about three weeks. But he was able to play light catch, with the condition that he couldn't run after a missed ball.
Considering that the patient next to him at the hospital had colon cancer, Lowe was quickly able to put his situation into perspective.
Knowing now how preventable skin cancer is, Lowe hopes people will be wiser than he used to be with regard to sunscreen.
"This is strictly from [overexposure to the sun]. It's not a hereditary thing. It's basically what you've done to your own body," Lowe said. "By burning over and over again, you double your chances of getting it. If you burn 100 or 200 times in your life like I have, then you obviously open yourself up for bigger risks."
Between Lowe's job as a baseball player and his winter residence in Florida, he estimates being in the sun 250 days a year.
He looks forward to spreading his message, knowing the words of a prominent professional athlete can carry a lot of weight.
"The crazy thing about kids is that they sometimes listen to people they see on TV more than their parents," Lowe said. "I think it's an opportunity to talk to them; even if it makes a difference with just one or two kids, it's worth it.
"In the morning, brush your teeth, put your sunblock on and you'll be fine."
With his medical woe cured, Lowe looks forward to building on the memorable success of a year ago, when he transformed himself from embattled closer to stellar starter.
"Last offseason, I was excited because I knew I would be a starter. This offseason, I didn't change anything," said Lowe. "I took two weeks off and got right back into it again. I understand now what it takes to have success; it's consistency. It's working hard and not getting complacent. Just go out there and pitch your game. Throw 80 percent sinkers and hope it works."
Lowe had a hop in his step Friday, as any player should on the first day of Spring Training.
"The offseason goes by so fast. It's great to see guys, and see guys excited again. There are a lot of new faces, but a lot of faces you recognize."
The only differences on Lowe's face were a scar and some sunscreen. The former will go away in time, but he's going to make sure the latter remains a constant.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. He can be reached at Ian.Browne@mlb.com. MLB.com editorial producer Brita Meng Outzen contributed to this report from Fort Myers, Fla. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its