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The Villages
Sunday, April 14, 2024

Toby Keith and stomach cancer

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

Toby Keith was a country music singer, songwriter, record producer, actor and an incredible business entrepreneur who recorded 26 albums that sold more than 40 million copies. He had 61 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, with 20 number one hits and 22 additional top 10 hits. His best known songs include “Beer for My Horses,” “As Good as I Once Was,” “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” “Red Solo Cup,” and “How Do You Like Me Now.” He received a National Medal of Arts from President Trump in 2021.

In 2022, he announced that he was being treated for stomach cancer, and he died from that disease on February 5, 2024.

Early Years and Success in Music
Toby Keith Covel was born in 1961 in Clinton, Oklahoma. He often visited his grandmother who owned a restaurant and bar called Billie Garner’s Supper Club. He got his first guitar when he was eight years old, and from then on he worked summer jobs anywhere he could sing and play guitar with a local band. He grew to 6′ 3″ and weighed close to 200 pounds, and played defensive end on his high school football team. After high school, he worked on a derrick in the oil fields. At age 20, he helped form the Easy Money Band but also continued to work on derricks. In 1982, at age 21, the oil company cut back on its employees and he had to find another way to support himself. He was big and coordinated enough to find a job as defensive end with the semi-pro Oklahoma City Drillers, but he did not make it into the pros so he began to play full time with the “Easy Money Band” in Oklahoma and Texas. In 1993, at age 32, he made it to the top when he recorded “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” which sold a million copies and was number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

Toby Keith at the Hodag Country Fest in Rhineland, Wi. July 2018
Toby Keith at the Hodag Country Music Festival in Rhinelander, Wis. in 2018.

A Brilliant Entrepreneur
While he was touring and singing in concerts all over the world, writing new songs, and recording top hits, he was also building several businesses.

  • He founded his own record label that had at least one #1 single every year
  • He created and ran a chain of restaurants, “Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill”
  • He started a company featuring his own line of clothing.
  • He developed a new drink, “Wild Shot,” that is featured in his restaurants
  • In 2013, Forbes magazine wrote that his music and business ventures made him one of the wealthiest celebrities in the United States. Their July 15, 2013, cover featured him with the headline “Country Music’s $500 Million Man”. He earned $65 million in the previous 12 months and had not earned less than $48 million/year over the previous five years.

Personal Life and Interests
In addition to his recording and performance career, Keith acted in movies and television, supported various politicians and was a proud patriot who gave concerts to American troops overseas. He also supported Ally’s House, an Oklahoma non-profit charity for children with cancer. He married Tricia Lucus on March 24, 1984, and remained married to her for the rest of his life. They had three children, including country singer Krystal Keith.

Cancer Diagnosis
In June 2022, Keith told the world that he had stomach cancer and had been treated in the last six months with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. On September 28, 2023, he performed publicly for the first time since he received his cancer diagnosis and he received a standing ovation. On February 5, 2024 at age 62, he died of that cancer.

The following conditions are associated with increased stomach cancer risk:

  • certain stomach infections such as helicobacter pylori
  • drinking alcohol
  • smoking tobacco or exposure to second-hand smokke
  • chronic belching, burping and burning in the stomach
  • family history of gastro-intestinal cancer
  • being over age 60,
  • eating a lot of smoked, pickled or salted foods, but little fresh vegetables
  • being overweight
  • having pernicious anemia
  • having a partial gastrectomy for ulcer disease
  • several genetic causes.

Symptoms of stomach cancer include an unreasonable feeling of fullness after eating, nausea, vomiting, dark stools, chest or belly pain, fatigue, and weight loss. Thus, lifestyle changes to reduce risk for stomach cancer would include avoiding smoking, avoiding alcohol, avoiding smoked, pickled and salted food, and eating a diet with plenty of fresh vegetables.

Helicobacter Pylori Infection
If you belch or have burning in your stomach or chest, particularly when your stomach is empty, you may have either an infection, a tumor, or a condition called GERD (reflux or regurgitation). Infection with bacteria such as helicobacter pylori is a very common cause, so everyone who has symptoms of a stomach or intestinal ulcer should get a DNA stool test for helicobacter pylori (J Clin Microbiol, Jan 2002; 40(1): 262–264). If you are infected with this germ, you can usually be cured by taking a couple of antibiotics and an ulcer medication for a week. However:

  • You may also need a doctor to insert a tube into your stomach and intestines to look for a hidden cancer with a biopsy.
  • The biopsy and culture can miss finding a germ even when it is there.
    You may still need antibiotics even if the stool DNA test is negative for helicobacter, because there are at least 23 other species of ulcer-causing bacteria that this test does not detect (Gut, 2002;50(2):273-283; Scand J of Gastroenterology, Aug 1998;33(8):795-798).

My Recommendations
If you suffer for belching, burping, an acid taste in your mouth or belly or chest pain, check with your doctor. You may have a curable infection with a bacteria like helicobacter pylori or less likely, you could have a condition that is far more serious that requires immediate treatment.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com

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