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BUTLER'S PRAYERS ANSWERED : DODGERS STAR RETURNS FROM CANCER TODAY.

Byline: Tim Brown Daily News Staff Writer

Brett Butler quoted it roughly, from a letter he received from a teammate going on four months ago, a thought that drifted through his mind as he put his children to bed Sunday night, for the last time before he became a baseball player again.

``In the valley of death,'' he said slowly, firmly, ``God's strength will get through this, in the twinkle of an eye. In the twinkle of an eye.''

Butler returns today from cancer, finally, from what was once diagnosed as tonsillitis. He returns from certain tragedy and someday, maybe, this will all be about baseball, though for a while it cannot be.

For the first time since May 1, Butler will wear a Dodgers uniform. He will hit baseballs, catch them, throw them, though he will not be game ready for at least two weeks, if ever. He is through with the cancer surgery that numbed him and the radiation that scorched him. Thing is, they are not yet behind him. There is still too much to be taken from those experiences.

``It's really something,'' he said. ``This is from where you measure the perspective. When you've been as high as I've been, then to be stricken with cancer. I'm able to now measure, from the high I was at, to the low I've been. When you've been at the peak of the good, now to have the measurement of where the true low is.''

His ``beautiful wife,'' he said, his four children, all of the money and the fame, ``I didn't think I could have appreciated it more than I did.''

Probably, somewhere on the way up, he passed the same view he had on the way down. Probably, he just wasn't looking.

``It dwarfs my previous perspective,'' Butler said. ``I didn't have a measuring stick. I had no measuring stick. Now, I do. It's hard to fathom, isn't it?''

Butler's 16th major-league season, and perhaps his last, was interrupted May 7, when a doctor, a longtime friend, sat in Butler's den and told him that the tumor in his throat was cancerous, that there might be more cancer.

Sixteen weeks later, Butler's unlikely recovery winds through Olympic Stadium, where the Dodgers play the Montreal Expos tonight, with Butler on their bench.

``I don't believe God slammed the door,'' he said. ``I think there's something bigger than this. Maybe it's about the hope that people see. That somebody with cancer can do this.

``It's the answered prayer for all those people who prayed for me all the time. It is the awesomeness in my mind in a living God, in Jesus, who I can brag about. We can brag about what I just did. This isn't me. I'm really just a pawn. I'm a character in the puzzle of life.''

In light of the odds, because he calls it ``a miracle'' without yet seeing

the final verse, Butler can barely comprehend the concept of failure. If he does not ever play again, he said, the summer of '96, ``the hardest battle I ever fought,'' still will have been fought.

``I've come too far to think that,'' he said. ``To me it's a win-win situation. I really can't lose from here. If I come back and succeed, well, they'll say, we knew he could do it. If I don't, he had cancer. I don't see failure in this.''

Two days before radiation treatment began, June 15, Butler turned 39.

``I didn't want to go out that way,'' he said. ``I didn't want to go out the other way. I wanted to come back and do it my way. If I'm a success, fine. If I fail, I can still look at myself in the mirror and say I did everything I possibly could, and I couldn't do it.''

If baseball is to follow, then today is the first step. He will report to the ballpark at 2:30 p.m., take batting practice, and then wait for his teammates. The uniform that followed the Dodgers to every National League park since he left them, that hung in every visiting clubhouse, will come back to life.

``I'm going to be wired, dude,'' Butler said. ``I'm going to be absolutely wired. I'm going to have all kinds of energy.

``It's going to take me back to my first day in the big leagues. Then it's going to take me back to the first time I ever put on a baseball uniform, as a Little League baseball player. It's full circle. It's renewed appreciation.''

All, in the twinkle of an eye.

TIME LINE

MARCH 18: During spring training, Brett Butler reveals that he suffers from what is diagnosed as tonsillitis. Though it is suggested he have his tonsils removed, Butler is told that it could take as long as a month to recover from the procedure. Therefore, he prefers to put off surgery until after the season.

``For me,'' he says, ``it hasn't gotten to the point where it bothers me.''

MARCH 24: Butler is encouraged by a change in medication that reduces the swelling in his tonsil and preserves his energy.

``Now it seems to be getting better,'' Butler says. ``The swelling is going down.''

A sizable lump on the right side of Butler's throat becomes apparent.

APRIL 30: After 10 weeks of pain and lethargy, Butler says that he will undergo surgery to have both of his tonsils removed. The 15-minute procedure will cost Butler at least 17 days of baseball, according to Butler's physician, Dr. Bob Gadlage.

``Initially I thought (the antibiotics) were taking care of it,'' Butler says. ``But they were sapping my strength. It's effected my performance.''

Gadlage orders a biopsy for both tonsils, for precautionary purposes.

MAY 1: Butler plays his final game before the scheduled tonsillectomy. As he leaves the clubhouse, Butler seeks out rookie Roger Cedeno and tells him, ``I'll be gone three weeks. Here's your chance to play every day, to take my job.''

In his final at-bat, Butler singles home a run.

MAY 3: Butler undergoes successful surgery in Atlanta to have his tonsils removed. However, doctors discover a ``plum-sized'' tumor encased in his right tonsil and order a biopsy.

MAY 7: Butler, who left the club six days earlier for what was supposed to be a routine tonsillectomy, is diagnosed with cancer. The survival rate for victims of this cancer, known as squamous cell carcinoma, is 70 percent, according to Dr. William J. Grist. Butler tells his family that his baseball career is over.

``Baseball is at the foundation of my life and always will be,'' Butler says in a statement released by the Dodgers. ``But even more than baseball, my faith in Christ is my strength and at the core of my being. We don't know why things like this happen, but we know that God's will is perfect.

``My wife and I would ask for your prayers for us and our children at this difficult time. We're not sure where this road will lead us, but we will try our best to keep you informed.''

MAY 21: Butler undergoes four-hour surgery to remove lymph nodes presumed cancerous and muscle tissue. The muscle removed from the back wall of Butler's throat is tested and found to have no cancer cells. One large lymph node removed from the right side of Butler's neck was determined to be cancerous.

MAY 29: Butler says that he will attempt to return to the Dodgers this season, even if it is as a spectator. Of course, he would prefer to come back as a center fielder.

``With vigor and enthusiasm I'm going to do everything I can to get back by the end of the year,'' Butler says from his home outside of Atlanta, ``and as something more than for (team) morale.''

JUNE 15: Butler turns 39.

JUNE 17: Butler begins radiation treatment that will last for a period of six weeks.

JULY 29: His 32nd and final dose of radiation. While alternative treatment will continue, the end of radiation treatments represents a hurdle for Butler.

``It's a small step,'' Butler said. ``But I know it'll be at least two weeks until I feel halfway decent.''

AUG. 4: Butler reports to New Orleans and trainer Mackie Shilstone for ``three weeks of spring training.''

AUG. 22: Completes program in New Orleans, 17 pounds heavier (161) than he was at the close of radiation.

AUG. 27: Reports back to Dodgers. Butler hopes for a return to the lineup sometime between Sept. 6-9.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos, box

PHOTO (1 -- color) Brett Butler

(2) Butler

BOX: Tim e line (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 27, 1996
Words:1443
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