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Butler Remains Hopeful of a September Return

Baseball: Dodger plans to work out soon after radiation treatments end in July and 'do everything I can to get back by the end of the year.'

May 30, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Brett Butler, his voice feeling strong and spirits soaring, said Wednesday he's planning to do everything in his might to rejoin the Dodgers in September.

"With vigor and enthusiasm," Butler said, "I'm going to do everything I can to get back by the end of the year. And in something more than a morale capacity. I'd like to get out there and tip my cap."

Butler was elated to learn that only one of 50 lymph nodes removed from his throat during two surgical procedures was cancerous. Butler said he has even toyed with the idea of bypassing the six-week radiation treatment, but likely will begin it June 10 or June 17 to help assure that the cancer does not return.

"My whole thing is asking questions about radiation," Butler said from his Duluth, Ga. "I've been checking all my options. I'm thinking maybe you got it. Maybe you got it all. Maybe I don't have to go to radiation.

"But talking with Dr. [Robert] Gadlage and Dr. [William] Grist, they believe I should go through with it. They told me, 'Your [cancerous] tonsil grew triple in five weeks, and your [cancerous] lymph node doubled in eight days. If the cancer is there, big boy, you've got to get it out of there. Let's get it out and make sure. The best result we have gotten has been with surgery and radiation.'

"If we go through radiation, and it's still not there in five years, I'll throw a party. If we go through radiation, and it comes back, there's a 15% cure rate."

Butler, who had the remaining 18 staples removed from the right side of his neck, was resting comfortably at home Wednesday night watching the Dodgers' game against the Philadelphia Phillies. It was the first game he has watched since his second surgery May 21.

Butler, who has lost about 12 pounds, said even if he begins his radiation treatment June 10, he plans to visit the team during its June 13-16 trip to Atlanta.

Butler, who will turn 39 on June 15, said he hopes to start working out in late July upon completion of his radiation treatments. He was told he likely will lose about 10 pounds, but if able, will begin a strengthening program that would enable him to return for the pennant stretch. If needed, he would even travel to New Orleans and work out with famed trainer Mackie Shilstone.

The biggest obstacle, Butler said, will be the damage the radiation could cause to his salivary glands. He has difficulty swallowing now, and has trouble drinking because of his tender palate.

"That's the problem, they told me I could lose my saliva glands indefinitely," Butler said. "I could lose them for 18 months. I just don't know. I've never seen a ballplayer who can't spit.

"I think it will take at least a month or two after radiation to come back. It could be the first of September. It could be the middle of September. It could be the end of September. I'll just have to play it by ear."

Yet, even if Butler is physically unable to play, he said he still would like to suit up and be on the bench with his teammates.

"If that's all I could do, I'd probably try to do that for moral support," Butler said. "But when this radiation is over, I'd like to start lifting, playing soft-toss and getting on a running program."

There also remains the question of how Butler contracted cancer, although he was told it originated in the tonsil. The cancerous tumor, removed May 3, was sent to specialists in California to determine whether there is evidence of Epstein-Barr virus. He contracted the virus in 1989 while playing with the San Francisco Giants, and several doctors told Butler that could be the cause of his cancer.

"If I got it through the Epstein-Barr virus," Butler said, "that means my brother and sister could have it. My kids could even get it.

"So it's very important for me to find out how I got it."

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