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Red Sox pitcher battles cancer

  • Jon Lester won Game 4 of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox after battling cancer
  • Lester and his wife have started a nonprofit to raise money for pediatric cancer research
  • The organization is called NVRQT, for “never quit,” and can be found at www.nvrqt.org

Editor’s note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Jon Lester is a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. During his rookie season in 2006 he was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare form of blood cancer. A year after his diagnosis, Lester was back on the mound, winning Game 4 of the World Series to clinch the championship.

(CNN) — It might be hard to believe, but as difficult as cancer was, in some ways it was good for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Even the word “cancer” brings back the nausea and pain, the fear I felt and the heartbreak I saw in my parents’ faces. The smells that fill hospitals and the constant tired feeling that comes with treatment are also permanently stuck in my memory.

But here’s the thing: The disease changed the path of my life in some ways that have been really great.

For one, going home after my diagnosis for treatment at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle brought me even closer to my parents. I always knew they’d be there for me, but I understood their love in a whole new way once I saw how they cared for me during treatment. When I was called up by the Red Sox I thought I’d always be the one who would be taking care of them, but cancer turned the tables for a bit.

They were amazing in my recovery, and we’re closer today than perhaps we would have been had I not gotten sick.

When I recovered, the Red Sox told me I was going to head to Greenville, South Carolina, to get back in major league shape. Honestly, I wasn’t happy. Once you make the majors it’s never a great feeling to go back to the minors — no matter what the circumstances.

But I met an amazing young woman named Farrah Johnson there, and today she is my wife and (the best) mom to our son, Hudson. Who knows if I would have met her — the love of my life — if I had not had cancer?

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When I hit the five-year cancer-free mark in 2011, two things happened: Farrah gave birth to our son and my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully, Dad is doing fine, but these life events caused me to think about how I should be giving back. I couldn’t help thinking of how I would feel if Hudson had to go through what I or my dad had to deal with fighting cancer. I had visited hospitals on Red Sox trips and met a number of kids battling cancer. I knew from speaking with them that my experience mattered to these kids and that the words of encouragement helped.

Together with Farrah, we decided pediatric cancer research would be our cause and our mantra would be never quit.

NVRQT, or “Never Quit,” is both a campaign that supports kids in the fight against cancer and funds much needed research. NVRQT is embossed on baseballs that can be signed, played with and given to a boy or girl battling cancer. They send the message to stick with it and get better because there are a whole bunch of people waiting for them to get back onto the field.

The funds we raise support the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation. In addition to the balls, we’re encouraging people to hold NVRQT games in their community to support the children in their area and raise funds for research.

As I travel the country for away games, I meet kids fighting cancer in almost every city. They visit the ballpark, and I invite them onto the field so we can chat and then watch the game. I hope the little things I’m doing really make a difference to the kids in the battle today and the big fundraising events we’re holding will minimize or cure pediatric cancer for the kids tomorrow.

I’m proud to do my part to make a difference, and I know I have cancer to thank for my inspiration. To learn more visit www.NVRQT.org.



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