Jon, Hudson and Farrah Lester are aiming to strike out pediatric cancer with their NVRQT nonprofit.
We all, to a man or woman, know someone who has battled cancer.
We also likely all know someone who has lost that struggle.
An insidious disease that comes in myriad forms, cancer invades and attacks healthy cells indiscriminately, without regard to gender, ethnicity or age. It rends families irrevocably. It takes people in their prime. Sadly, it also takes children who never get the chance to reach their prime.
In my own family, I need both hands to count how many we’ve lost on my mother’s side alone. Currently, I have a cousin in her early 20s and an aunt in her late 60s who are both, I am happy to report, steadfast, standing tall and winning their own war against cancer.
While I’m not much of the Praying Kind, I desperately hope that their struggle with cancer turns out the same way Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester’s did.
Midway through his rookie season in 2006, the southpaw was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare type of blood cancer. After receiving treatment and returning to the Red Sox in the middle of the 2007 season, he was on the mound for Game Four of the World Series, helping the Red Sox clinch their second championship in three seasons. One year later, he pitched a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals.
Lester, now six years cancer-free, wrote about his own personal fight with the disease and he and his wife Farrah’s ongoing efforts to raise funds for pediatric cancer research through their NVRQT (“Never Quit”) nonprofit organization on CNN’s “Human Factor” Wednesday.
In Frank terms, Lester counts his blessings — and also counts the ways that cancer was good for him.
“Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” writes Lester. “Even the word… brings back the nausea and pain, the fear I felt and the heartbreak I saw in my parents’ faces. But… 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 while 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.”
Lester goes on to write that when the Red Sox sent him to Greenville, South Carolina for a minor-league rehab stint following his recovery he initially wasn’t happy about the assignment, but it ended up being a boon rather than a hardship — it was there that he met Farrah Johnson.
“Today she is my wife and (the best) mom to our son, Hudson,” Lester writes. “Who knows if I would have met her — the love of my life — if I had not had cancer?”
Lester also relates that his own father was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, the same year that Hudson was born.
“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’ ”
To that end, “NVRQT” is embossed on baseballs that can be signed and given to a youngster battling cancer, sending a valuable and inspirational message to “stick with it and get better because there are a whole bunch of people waiting for them to get back on the field,” writes Lester.
While Red Sox Nation remains fixated on Lester’s won-loss record, ERA and results between the lines, there’s something to be said about the importance of his off-the-field activities as well — especially if he can be as successful in striking out pediatric cancer as he has been opposing batters in his career.
In this writer's humble opinion, if Lester can inspire even one youngster to keep fighting and Never Quit, then he’s a far greater champion than any no-hit, MVP or World Series title he might earn.
Jon and Farrah Lester will host the second annual NVRQT fundraiser at the House of Blues on Lansdowne St. in Boston July 29 beginning at 6 p.m. Last year’s event included emcee Mike O’Malley, “3 Up, 3 Down” participants Shawn Thornton of the Bruins, ex-Revolution star and current ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman, NESN’s Jenny Dell, former Patriot Kevin Faulk, comedian Steve Sweeney and Lester’s Red Sox teammates John Lackey, Will Middlebrooks and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
For more information or for tickets, go to www.nvrqt.org.