By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
In June, Washington Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden went in for a routine checkup and asked his doctor about what looked like an ingrown hair on his forehead. It sometimes bled, but Bowden didn't think much of it. The doctor, though, felt greater concern and decided to do a biopsy.
"When the biopsy came back," Bowden said yesterday, "it wasn't the good kind."
That's how Bowden learned he had squamous cell carcinoma -- a type of skin cancer for which doctors recommended surgery within a month. Unwilling to abandon his job, even for a week, Bowden ignored the advice. He spent the second half of the season working as usual, and worrying in private about the growth on his forehead -- and whether it was spreading.
Immediately after the season, Bowden had the cancer removed in a five-hour procedure conducted by Melbourne, Fla.-based surgeon Larry Bishop. Doctors removed the cancer-infected skin layer by layer, following its roots to the very bottom. Because he had delayed treatment, the cancer had spread to a second area of his forehead, but doctors were able to get it all.
"I'll live," Bowden said.
Following the procedure, Bowden could do little for almost a week. Twelve stitches formed a seam across his forehead, and his left eye was swollen shut. Bowden will require checkups every six months -- a precaution to guard against the cancer's return.
In retrospect, Bowden said yesterday, delaying the treatment was a mistake.
"It's just with baseball, there's not a lot of time when you have the draft, trade deadlines," Bowden said. "Just a lot of things have to happen. I got different opinions. Some said it's okay to wait, others said you shouldn't wait. In retrospect, I would advise anybody to get it done as soon as possible. Because that type of cancer can grow extremely fast."
During the season, Bowden told almost nobody about the cancer. He didn't want to compromise his job, and he didn't want others to worry.
His fiancee, children and family knew about the cancer, but Bowden was plagued by a different uncertainty: Until the surgery, he had no way of knowing how deeply the cancer had penetrated. This form of skin cancer starts on the outermost layer of skin and tunnels inward.
"Obviously it was extremely difficult," Bowden said. "I was concerned."
Now, Bowden has returned to work, and is back at his Nationals Park office. Bowden yesterday announced the hiring of Deric Ladnier, 44, who will join the front office in a new role designed to increase the team's scouting experience and manpower. Ladnier, who spent the last nine seasons as Kansas City's scouting director, will serve as Washington's national cross-checker and as a special assistant to the general manager.
"He'll be heavily involved in, first of all, our draft," Bowden said.
"His track record in Kansas City has been phenomenal. He's a tremendous evaluator."
In early September, Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore fired Ladnier, whose drafts with the Royals had often been well-regarded within baseball, but which never stopped the franchise's cycle of losing. Ladnier said yesterday that he harbored no ill feelings about the firing, and even drew parallels between the goals of his old organization and his new one.
"These are organizations that needed to be built from the scouting and player development aspects of baseball," Ladnier said, "and that's exactly what I've seen with the Washington Nationals."