Rookie Lester cancer-free

Lester cancer-free, to get final treatment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The best news the Red Sox will have this winter won't come via the Hot Stove season and won't be found under a Christmas tree. Instead, it was an early holiday gift for a 22-year-old pitcher and the franchise he performs for.

Jon Lester, according to a CT scan he took last week in Tacoma, Wash., is cancer free.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Lester revealed that on Dec. 21, he will undergo his sixth -- and final -- chemotherapy treatment for anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

"I just had my fifth treatment on Thursday and they did the CT scan and all the scans they needed to do and found that I was cancer-free at the time," said Lester. "So I've got one more treatment coming up Dec. 21 and I'll be done. Then, after that, we'll just go down and I'll have scans every six months for the first year, and then we'll go from there. Right now, everything is looking up and pretty positive."

Lester, who received his stunning diagnosis at the end of August, vowed at that time that he would not make baseball his focus until he beat the cancer. Rest assured that baseball is front and center on his mind again, and with good reason.

"Oh yeah," said Lester. "It was my expectation from the beginning to be at Spring Training at some point. Now that everything is good and ready to go, I'm looking to be there on the reporting date [Feb. 16] that the pitchers and catchers need to be there."

And there Lester was in Tacoma on Monday, picking up a baseball and putting his offseason conditioning program into motion.

"[It was my] first time going out there and throwing the ball around," said Lester. "I'm probably a little behind right now, just for the simple fact that I haven't gotten my weight back to where I want it be. Condition-wise, I feel good. I've been working out."

Lester estimates that he's lost about 10 pounds.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who has kept in frequent contact with Lester over the last couple of months, didn't try to hide his excitement over the news.

"It's the most important thing that could happen at the Winter Meetings," said Francona. "So from where I sit, the meetings are already a success. Pretty amazing news."

After undergoing his first chemotherapy treatment in Boston in September, Lester went home to Tacoma to get the rest of his treatments. Needless to say, his parents -- who have been with him during this entire trying time -- were ecstatic with the good news regarding their son.

"I don't think they've stopped smiling since Thursday," said Lester. "They've been good, very supportive. And after finding out, they've had some big grins on their faces."

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein -- even in the midst of the frenetic pace of the Winter Meetings -- had a grin to match when asked about Lester's good news.

"Obviously we're over the moon about this and couldn't be happier for Jon and his family," said Epstein.

One of baseball's promising young pitchers, Lester went 7-2 with a 4.76 ERA for the Red Sox in his rookie season of 2006.

He has been touched by the support of the fans of Boston and Seattle, not to mention the front office, coaching staff and playing roster of the Red Sox.

"You know how Red Sox Nation is," said Lester. "They're unbelievable people. Just all the fan mail from little kids that had lymphoma to 80-year-old people that had cancer and survived to everyday people. It got to the point where it was so nice that I couldn't read the stuff anymore. I didn't want people to feel sorry for me.

"It didn't go unnoticed," continued Lester. "The people out there [in Boston], the people out here [in Washington] have been great. It's just been, even though it's a bad experience, it's a good experience, because I've been able to see a lot of good things from good people."

When Lester sensed his teammates were going out of his way to give him space, he set them straight.

"I talk to them every once in a while, they shoot me an e-mail or give me a call to see how I'm doing," Lester said. "I think the privacy thing kind of went a little bit overboard with everyone. They were kind of afraid to call, they didn't want to bug me. I had to call some people and say, 'Hey, I want the phone calls, I want to be bugged a little bit to get my mind off this thing.' It was good to hear from them every now and again."

For a young man fighting cancer, Lester managed to stay remarkably upbeat throughout the whole process.

"He's been good since the day he found out," Francona said. "Again, I haven't talked to him every day but he checks in like he promised he would, and he's been energetic and positive. He's a fabulous kid."

Still, there have been tough days. Lester wasn't going to hide that.

"Every 21 days, going in and getting a heavy dose of the drugs, feeling sick for three or four days and not being myself, that's been kind of the weird thing," Lester said. "Having the medication kind of run me down a little bit. Other than that, it's been a pretty good, typical offseason. I've done some fishing, golfing, I've done all the normal things I like to do."

The biggest sign of normalcy will be when Lester throws that Red Sox jersey back on and fires a 95-mph fastball into the mitt of Jason Varitek.

"I really don't think it will hit home until I come down to Florida and start playing baseball again and doing everything I normally do," said Lester. "There's obviously a lot of joy, a lot of smiles."

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