So when McGowan was honored as the 52nd recipient of the prestigious Hutch Award for outstanding community service during the annual Hutch Award Luncheon at Safeco Field on Wednesday afternoon, it was an understandably emotional moment for the 34-year-old Marlins right-hander.
"I just never gave up," McGowan said when asked how he has managed to keep a positive attitude. "Even when it seemed like I wouldn't be able to play again, I kept working hard because I believed in myself."
The Hutch Award, a national honor presented by the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been given every year since 1965 in honor of Major League player and manager Fred Hutchinson, who died of cancer a year earlier at the age of 45, and its list of honorees is a heady one.
Winners have included Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose, Joe Torre, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Lou Brock, George Brett and Johnny Bench. Last year's award went to St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.
And now here's McGowan, a fresh and deserving honoree whose spirit of perseverance fits right in with the great work done by the miracle workers at Fred Hutch.
After the life-changing diagnosis of diabetes, McGowan has learned how to pitch with an insulin pump attached to him and control his blood-sugar level during games as a starting pitcher and as a reliever.
Since arriving in Miami to pitch for the Marlins in 2016, McGowan and his family, which includes a daughter who is also a Type 1 diabetic, have been involved with the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI), which is less than a mile from Marlins Park. The McGowans have hosted fan events where they can answer questions, Dustin signs autographs and takes pictures with children, and Dustin also treated families to a night at the ballpark.
Part of the annual tour of Seattle for each Hutch Award winner is the Tuesday visit to the Hutch laboratory and the Wednesday morning stop at the Hutch School. McGowan was thrilled to be joined at both by Hall of Famer Jim Rice, who later served as the keynote speaker at the luncheon.
The two baseball luminaries got a rare insider's look at the ground-breaking work done for the patients and their children.
"It's just amazing what is going on there with research and development," McGowan said. "You feel great about the future of the fight against this disease."
After McGowan received the Hutch Award, a crystal baseball trophy presented by Hutch president and director Dr. Gary Gilliland, the pitcher hosted a brief Q&A, as did Rice.
They were preceded by the emotional comments of cancer survivor David Dunnington, who had Stage 4 melanoma but was saved by a revolutionary drug that he received at the Hutch.
Proceeds from the event, which over the past 17 years has raised gross proceeds of more than $5 million, benefit life-saving research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
More information on the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Hutch Award can be found at www.fhcrc.org.