Lester: 'One of those feelings you can't describe'

BOSTON -- Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester was shocked when he heard the diagnosis.

"It was one of those feelings you can't describe," he said. "You're 22 years old. You go in for back pain, and you find out you have cancer."

Lester spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time since he was told last week that he has a treatable form of lymphoma. He is to begin chemotherapy Friday and hopes to be back with the team by the start of spring training.

Lester has anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a type of cancer that forms in the body's lymph system. He said the first round of chemotherapy will begin at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and then he will travel to his home state of Washington for additional treatment at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research in Seattle.

The rookie pitcher was originally sidelined for back pain from an auto accident in mid-August.

"Something stuck out" during a test in Tacoma, Wash., he said.

"I thought I was in the best shape of my life, coming in here pitching, pitching in Fenway Park," he said. "Obviously, there's that denial. Why me? But right now there's no time for that."

Fellow rookies Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen were just glad to see him before the game.

"I just told him, 'Hey man, you know, we're praying for you. We got your back,'" Papelbon said. "I'm sure he knew that already, but I think it's good for us to reinforce that."

Delcarmen spent most of the spring at Triple-A Pawtucket with Lester before they were called up.

"Got to see him and say hello, wish him the best," Delcarmen said. "We're all in prayer for him. Looks good, he's real confident. We all just wish the best for him right now."

Enlarged lymph nodes were identified when Lester was tested to determine the cause of back pain that sent him to the disabled list on Aug. 28. The Red Sox confirmed Lester had cancer last Friday.

"Baseball, right now, is secondary," he said before Wednesday's game against Chicago at Fenway Park. "We've got to fight this as a family and we've got to stick together. God willing, I'll be back and I'll see the guys on Feb. 18."

Lester has been one of Boston's top prospects since he was drafted in 2002. He reached the major leagues for the first time on June 10, won his first five decisions and was 7-2 with a 4.76 ERA when he went on the disabled list.