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Lester is prepared to fight

Rookie pitcher's spirits are high as he gets set to begin chemotherapy treatments

Red Sox rookie pitcher Jon Lester paid a visit to Fenway Park yesterday afternoon after calling to say he was coming, and spent about an hour visiting with teammates before appearing in the team's interview room and announcing that tomorrow he will begin undergoing chemotherapy for cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

``I'm doing all right, you know, hanging in there the best I can," said the 22-year-old Lester, who has been diagnosed with a comparatively rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a blood cancer. ``I've got my family here, which is good. They've been very supportive."

After an initial cycle of chemotherapy at Dana-Farber, Lester said he intends to return to his home in Puyallup, Wash., and continue treatment at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The world-renowned center is named after an All-Star pitcher and manager from Seattle who died of lung cancer at the age of 45 .

``It'll just be good to be home and be there with family and friends and have that support," said Lester, who expects his treatment to last four to five months.

Lester, dressed in a green polo shirt and speaking in his customary calm and quiet way, said he decided to speak publicly for the first time since his diagnosis was announced because ``I think I needed to give some information, show my face, show that I'm still here." He was inspired in part by seeing a recent game in which a fan held up a sign welcoming back David Ortiz and ``it had my name on there as well."

Lester said while he was home in Seattle with the Red Sox for games on the weekend of Aug. 25 that he elected to see an uncle who was a doctor in Tacoma regarding back pain that had gotten worse, he said, since the start he'd made two days earlier in Anaheim, Calif.

``We figured we'd just run in, get some drugs, run out, be fine," Lester said. ``Obviously, that didn't happen.

``We did an MRI, all that stuff in Tacoma. They saw some different things that weren't supposed to be there. Everybody thought it was a viral infection I had. We just went from there, obviously ran some more tests, and found out it wasn't that."

The news, naturally, came as a shock to Lester, who thought his back pain had worsened because of a car accident he'd had on Storrow Drive late on the afternoon of Aug. 18, as he was on his way to Fenway Park to pitch against the Yankees that night. Lester's car was rear-ended, he said.

``It really wasn't anything alarming to me," said Lester, who went ahead and pitched that night, then took his regular turn five days later. ``My dad [John] 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."

The Red Sox announced Lester's diagnosis last Friday, after he'd returned to Boston for tests at Massachusetts General Hospital.

``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 you find out you have cancer. I mean, that's pretty shocking, you know, but we've got a positive outlook on it. It's very curable, very fightable, so go from there, take it one day at a time, and just fight it the best you can."

Lester said doctors have advised him that he will be able to work out and continue other normal activities as long as his white blood cell count remains high enough. Lester was the first lefthanded rookie in Sox history to win his first five decisions, including a 1-0 win over the Royals July 18, in which he pitched eight innings of a combined one-hitter with fellow rookie Jonathan Papelbon.

But his return to baseball, Lester said, is secondary, while dealing with what in some ways has seemed a surreal experience.

``I'm 22 years old, I thought I was in the best shape of my life coming in here, pitching every five days and pitching at Fenway Park -- what could be better?" Lester said. ``Obviously, there's that denial. Why, how could it be me, what did I do wrong, type thing.

``But you know, right now we don't have room for that. Right now, all it is we've got to fight this, we've got to beat it, and like I said, God willing, come February or March -- whatever it is, two years from now -- we beat it, we got it under control, we'll start thinking about baseball, back to pitching.

``Until we do that, we've got a long road ahead of us."

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