Cancer Survivors Shine at Baseball's World Series: Mike Lowell and John Lester

Patient Expert

I want to tell you a little feel-good story. You might think it's about baseball, but truly, it's not; baseball is just the stage upon which it's set. This story is about two men diagnosed with cancer who felt their life come tumbling down around them, as so many of us have. But these guys eluded the demon, and went on to fame, fortune, and a world championship. Read on"

I've been a Boston Red Sox fan for 40 years. And up until three years ago, they hadn't won a World Series in my lifetime. Nor in my Dad's lifetime-and he died in 2003, at the age of 85. No, it had been a long, LONG drought between world championships for my Sox. Then, in 2004, they surprised their long-suffering fans with a World Series win. And this past Sunday night, they did it again, beating the Colorado Rockies for baseball's world championship.

If you're a baseball fan, this is old news to you. But fan or not, here's something you probably don't know: this year is the first time in the 100+ history of the game that two cancer survivors won the Series' two top accolades: Most Valuable Player, and winning pitcher in the championship game. Those survivors, whose names will go down in the record books, are Mike Lowell and Jon Lester.

Near the end of a successful 2006 rookie season with the Red Sox, the 23-year-old Lester, a pitcher, was diagnosed with a rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He immediately started chemo, and received six treatments between September and December. At the time of Lester's diagnosis, his doctor at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute said that his cancer was fast-growing, but "hopefully curable with chemotherapy." That hope seems to have come true: Lester was declared cancer-free early this year, and after a stint in the minor leagues, returned to the Red Sox late in July.

John Lester helped the Red Sox reach the World Series, and after one of the Sox's four regular starters was pulled from the lineup due to injury, found himself pitching in the biggest game of his life Sunday night: a World Series start against the Colorado Rockies. A game that, if won by the Sox, would give them the championship.

Perhaps it's his extreme youth; or maybe it's just the way of athletes. But those who know him say Lester has never used cancer as an excuse for anything, and he hasn't let it get him down. Quoted in an interview on ESPN's Web site before Sunday's game, he said about his cancer, "You know, I'm a competitor. I don't want to be down with anything. I just try to take that mentality into it. Don't feel sorry for yourself, don't sit at home and think about it." That's a winning attitude.

And sure enough, Lester held Colorado to no runs and just three hits over nearly six innings as Boston beat the Rockies 4-3 and captured its second world championship in four years. Jon Lester: cancer survivor, and World Series winning pitcher.

_                   Image Source: Wikimedia Commons_

_Mike Lowell, Cancer Survivor _

Mike Lowell, the Sox's third baseman, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1999, at the age of 24. The diagnosis came just a week before the opening of spring training, where he would have been a rookie. He missed two months of the season while undergoing radiation, which made him so sick he was unable to keep down even the smallest meals. Despite the exhaustion he must have felt, Lowell returned to baseball a month after ending treatment, and managed to play a solid season.

Lowell refers to his cancer as "the scariest thing I've ever been through."

"My whole world came crashing down that afternoon," he said, referring to his diagnosis in an interview in "Baseball Digest" back in October, 2003. Since then Lowell, originally with the Florida Marlins, was traded to the Red Sox, and has become a Gold Glove fielder who this year broke the Red Sox record for most runs batted in for a third baseman. His all-around play in the four-game World Series, both batting and hitting, earned him the coveted Series MVP award. Mike Lowell: cancer survivor, and World Series MVP.

All of us who've been touched by cancer share one thing in common: that moment when your life stands still. When you think you're going to die. For some of us, that fear comes true. But thankfully, many of us are able to soldier on, leading our lives with grace and courage. Jon Lester and Mike Lowell didn't let cancer stop them from reaching the pinnacle of their chosen profession, baseball. And, as a fellow survivor, I feel an immense sense of pride in their accomplishment.