Davis' goal is to play ball in '97 O's outfielder weighs chemotherapy, to seek opinions in California; Will rely on 'prayer, advice'; Even with treatment, August return eyed

Noticeably thinner but unswervingly optimistic about his recovery from cancer surgery, Orioles right fielder Eric Davis said yesterday that he intends to return to the field this season but remains undecided if he will undergo chemotherapy.

In his first public appearance since having a 3 1/2 -inch cancerous mass and three feet of colon removed on June 13, Davis said during a 30-minute news conference that he will rely on prayer and a wide range of advice before reaching a decision.


"My life is real important as well as my baseball career," Davis said. "I do want to play baseball again in 1997."

Most of the clubhouse had not seen him since surgery and were pleasantly surprised at his appearance and upbeat attitude. Rather than speak before the team, Davis moved quietly from locker to locker, talking with his closest friends.


Davis, who was hitting .302 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 34 games, told several teammates that he hopes to begin working out with the team when the club makes its second West Coast road trip in early August.

"It is good news for us. Everybody is happy to see him walking around, talking to people, smiling and being happy. There are smiles on our faces, too," said second baseman Roberto Alomar.

"It looks like he can step in, put on a uniform and start whacking again," said manager Davey Johnson.

Davis would like nothing better. Much of his decision about after-care will be determined by how it affects his possible return. Davis already has received advice from Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Brett Butler, who underwent treatment for throat cancer last season but returned by September. Davis said he has yet to discuss the matter with family members, including his mother.

Dr. Keith Lillemoe, his surgeon at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, said the chemotherapy would not preclude a return this season, though that is far from guaranteed. Though chemotherapy for colon cancer is less harsh than it is for many other cancers, he said, patients react differently.

The most common side effects, Lillemoe said, are mouth sores and diarrhea, although many patients have no diarrhea or only mild cases.

"I think that certainly I could do my job, you could do your job, but whether or not he can function at a level that he can play major-league baseball with chemotherapy, that is not clear," Lillemoe said.

Davis sounded hopeful that he could. "Based on the conversation myself and my physician had earlier, I might be able to do both," he said. "It all depends on how my body responds. If I decide to go that way, I'm in great shape."


Asked to recount learning of his cancer, Davis said matter-of-factly, "When the news was broken to me, I was in shock. I didn't know how to react.

"I knew something was wrong. I knew I had to deal with it -- whatever it was -- and I had to be strong," he said. "When he told me what it was, I just took it with a grain of salt and said, 'Did you get it all?' "

Because of its size, doctors believe the mass had taken months to form. Davis acknowledged that pain had followed him for much of the season before it became "excruciating" on May 24 in Cleveland, forcing him from a game. "I started feeling it before Cleveland, but that's when it really came to a point. But I really didn't really know. I mean, I am 35 years old," he said. "We've all had stomach problems where you think it's gas or something of that nature. But when it escalated to the point where it did in Cleveland, I knew something was wrong because I never felt that kind of pain before."

Davis then was admitted to University of Maryland Medical Center and began 10 days of tests and examinations. However, it wasn't until he sought a second opinion at Johns Hopkins Hospital that he was first approached about the possibility of cancer. Doctors previously had focused on the possibility of an abscess, but Davis rejected their suggestion of exploratory surgery.

"I wasn't too keen on opening my body up to explore some possibilities," Davis said.

Cancer was revealed when a barium enema was performed June 9. For the first time, Davis relented. "When the doctor told me that it was a possibility, I told him, 'We have to do it' It wasn't anything for me to think about."


Asked if there was a history of colon cancer in his family, Davis cited a great-uncle whose condition was diagnosed in his 40s. He lived until 89.

Davis has taken the same skepticism toward chemotherapy that he exercised regarding surgery. Davis has long been averse to ** drugs and any type of invasive procedure.

"I have always been independent. I have always had a mind-set of finding out if there is any other way out of anything, whether it's on the baseball field, whether it is walking through that door. Before I leave, I'm going to see if there is another exit even if it

might say there is one exit," he said.

Davis will return to his Northridge, Calif., home today and will have his after-care transferred to a Los Angeles medical facility. Though the site has yet to be determined, UCLA Medical Center is a leading possibility.

Lillemoe said he had advised Davis to undergo chemotherapy to lessen the chance of a recurrence. But he and others acknowledged that there is wide disagreement over its effectiveness in cases like this, when the survival odds are already favorable.


"This is an area of tremendous controversy, especially at the stage he is in," said Dr. Meyer Heyman, a medical oncologist who treated Davis at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Heyman, however, agreed that chemotherapy is the best course, especially because Davis is young.

Doctors classify cases such as Davis' as B-2, a category in which patients stand about a 75 percent chance of long-term survival.

Studies have shown that in more dire cases chemotherapy can significantly improve the survival odds. Where the survival odds are already good, the evidence is less clear that chemotherapy makes a difference.

"I would tell him as follows," said Dr. Samuel Zygler, an oncologist at Sinai Hospital who is not involved in Davis' case.

"Overall, he has a good chance of doing OK with or without the chemotherapy. But because he is young and has a lot to lose, the investment now is worth the effort. If he were an 80-year-old, I wouldn't give the chemotherapy. But with a young guy, the sacrifice now is worth the return."

Pub Date: 6/27/97