In August 2010, doctors found that Tony Gwynn had a cancerous tumor growing around a facial nerve inside his right cheek. They removed most of the tumor, and attempted to kill the rest of it with radiation and chemotherapy. But Gwynn developed a new tumor - the old tumor? - in the same place, so on Tuesday he underwent an operation to remove it.
According to Gwynn's wife, Alicia, doctors do not believe the cancer has spread outside of Gwynn's salivary gland. But she expects to know more after Tuesday's intricate surgery, in which she said five doctors will likely perform a nerve graft to preserve Gwynn's facial functions.
What's tricky here is the nerve part. Faces need nerves to do things. Surgeons might have had to remove part of Gwynn's facial nerve, in which case they'd replace it with a nerve from his shoulder or leg. Ideally, Gwynn will come away cancer-free and with a perfectly functional face, but there are significant risks involved. The reason doctors removed only most of Gwynn's tumor in 2010 was because they didn't want to mess with the nerve if they didn't have to.
If all goes well, Gwynn intends to be back coaching with San Diego State in a month. He's blamed an old dipping habit for his health problems, although there's no proof that the two are related. Of course, what matters for Gwynn isn't what caused this anymore - what matters is getting better. We should find out before too long whether Gwynn's operation was a success.