A Strike Against You

If your family has a history of cancer, are you doomed? Even though many of his relatives succumbed to the disease—including his famous father—Mickey Mantle, Jr., didn’t think so. Then he got sick.

FOR MICKEY MANTLE, JR., CARRYING AROUND THE GENETIC load of one of the century’s most famous pro athletes has been a mixed blessing. It has given the 45-year-old Dallasite the guileless good looks and aw-shucks nonchalance that made his father one of our most beloved celebrities. And as he himself admits, “People will return your call, no matter what you’re calling about.”

But genetic inheritance cuts both ways, and in Mickey Junior’s case, it has also left him vulnerable to two vexing diseases: alcoholism and cancer. In fact, when Mickey Senior passed away, on August 13, 1995, it was difficult to know which of the two finally did him in, since he died of cancer of the liver, an affliction that can be genetically predisposed but is also precipitated by chronic alcohol abuse. (Mickey Senior also carried the hepatitis C virus, which is a leading cause of liver cancer.)

Mickey Junior dealt with his own alcoholism (and drug abuse too) not long after his father’s death by seeking help for his addictions, just as his parents and brothers had. But the cancer was not so easily dispensed with. Cancer makes you wait on it, and even if you’ve waited all your life, it can sneak up on you. Mickey Junior first noticed the lesion on his neck last June. “Frankly, I didn’t worry too much about it at first,” he recalls. “It looked like a minor skin cancer, but I’d had lots of those—maybe twenty or twenty-five small lesions over the past eight years. They had all been little things that my dermatologist had excised, and that was that. But this one turned out to be different.”

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