Lester ready to fight cancer

Lester ready to fight cancer

BOSTON -- With his composure and fighting spirit both intact, Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester addressed the media for the first time since being diagnosed with a treatable form of anaplastic large cell lymphoma, and bravely spoke of what it has been like to deal with such harsh news.

"It's kind of one of those things you can't describe," Lester said. "You're 22 years old, you think you're just going in there for some back pain and then you find out you have cancer. I mean, that's pretty shocking, but we have a positive outlook in it, [it's] very curable and very fightable, and just go on from there. Taking one day at a time and fight it the best we can."

Lester officially begins his quest to get rid of the cancer on Friday morning, when he will undergo his first round of chemotherapy treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

He said that once his blood cell count gets back to normal, he'll fly home to Tacoma, Wash., and undergo his second round of treatment there. Lester knows that his road will be long and difficult before he steps back onto a pitching mound.

"Like I said, God willing, come February or March, whatever it is, two years from now, we beat it and we've got it under control and we're going to start thinking baseball and get back to where I was last month, or the month before, back to pitching and doing what I love to do," said Lester. "Until we do that, we've got a long road ahead of us. I've got a very good family and a lot of support and we're going to fight it and hopefully beat it."

When Lester was rear-ended on Storrow Drive while driving to Fenway Park on Aug. 18 for his start against the Yankees, he never figured it would be a fortunate event. But that's precisely what it turned into. As back pain intensified for Lester in the days after the accident, he decided to get checked out when the Red Sox were in Seattle the weekend of Aug. 25. A couple of days earlier, he won a game at Anaheim, but his back was stiff throughout.

The examination of the back led to other key findings.

"Like my dad said, it was kind of a blessing in disguise that I got in that accident. That kind of caused everything, all the back pain to start," Lester said. "That was really it. After my start in Anaheim, the back pain really flared up, and, being in Seattle, I have an uncle that is a doctor there and we figured we'd just run in, get some [prescription] drugs, run out and be fine. Obviously, that didn't happen. I think the biggest thing, it was a blessing in disguise that I got in that accident and found out when we did."

"We did an MRI and all that stuff in Tacoma, and they saw some different things that weren't supposed to be there," continued Lester. "But everybody thought it was just a viral infection that I had, and we just went from there. Obviously, we ran some more tests and found out that it wasn't that. It was just one of those things where something didn't look right."

Things definitely were not right, as Lester must now face some things that no 22-year-old should. But he made it clear that he was ready to deal with the biggest challenge he's ever faced.

"Right now, I'm just waiting for that first treatment," Lester said. "And just fighting. If I'm back for Spring Training, that's great. The doctor said I can work out during this whole thing. I can live a normal life as long as I am careful within a certain day, period, because of the blood cell count. Baseball, right now, is secondary. We've got to fight this. We have to be a family. We have to stick together and we have to beat this first. Once we do that, we're going to start talking baseball and Spring Training."

Lester clearly has a supportive family. But he was also grateful the way his second family -- the Red Sox -- have responded to him during this difficult time.

Wednesday was his first day back in the clubhouse since the news of his cancer became official.

"Every person in there came up to me and said, 'We're praying for you, our thoughts are with you,'" the southpaw said. "The front office has been great -- John Henry, Theo [Epstein and Terry Francona]. They've just helped out my family in a tremendous way."

Francona and Lester's teammates were pleased to see him in the clubhouse.

"It was very nice to see him," said Francona. "I think it meant a lot, not just to Jon, but to our team, to get a chance to say hello to him and tell him we're thinking about him."

Added fellow rookie Jonathan Papelbon: "I said, 'Hey, man, we're praying for you and we've got your back.' I'm sure he knew that already, but I'm sure it's good just to reinforce to him that we're behind him 100 percent. And, obviously, if he needs anything from anybody on this team, everybody will give him whatever he wants, that's for sure."

"It was awesome just to see his face and to see him walking around and the charisma that he had, the smile he had on his face just to reinsure to us that he's going to battle this with everything he's got," added Papelbon.

Why did Lester decide to hold a press conference?

"You guys have been so supportive of me, I figured I needed to say something," Lester told reporters. "Not only to you guys, but the fans. These fans here are the best. ... So it's just the support, and I think I needed to give some information, show my face, show that I'm still here."

Lester was asked if it had sunk in for him yet.

"I'm 22 years old and I thought I was in the best shape of my life," he said. "I'm pitching every five days, pitching at Fenway Park. What could be better? Obviously, there's that denial, there's that why-did-it-happen-to-me, what-did-I-do-wrong type of thing. But you know, right now we don't have room for that. ... We've got to fight this, we've got to beat it."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.