I have been a big Jerry Remy fan since his arrival in Boston from the Los Angeles Angels in 1978. His speed and lunch-bucket diligence as a player won me over, as they did just about everyone else.
Cancer can be a tough, relentless enemy. That's something Jerry Remy has known for a long time. But he can be just as tough and just as relentless. That's something he has proven for just as long.
George W. Bush was still president of the United States when the guy we call the Rem Dawg was first diagnosed with lung cancer. The presidencies of Bush, Obama (two terms), and Trump have all expired since then. America and the world have changed profoundly; but Remy still battles on in his seemingly never-ending fight against the dreaded disease. He's not going to throw in the towel, that much is certain.
I have been a big Jerry Remy fan since his arrival in Boston from the Los Angeles Angels in 1978. His speed and lunch-bucket diligence as a player won me over, as they did just about everyone else. But the time that he earned my everlasting allegiance was not until years later, after his original cancer diagnosis. After under-going treatment protocols that first time, he quickly returned to the broadcast booth and to his duties as analyst for Red Sox games -- too quickly, as it turned out. It can take a good deal of time to get over the treatment for cancer, let alone the disease itself. The healing time can be long and arduous, and depression can often result. That's what happened to Jerry. He decided to do something which took a ton of personal courage on his part and for which I will always be grateful.
He spoke openly about his depression and how it had hindered his healing process. That was not an easy thing for an old jock to do. The macho culture in locker rooms and clubhouses had always been to tough-out any mental problems. Any admission of depression was considered a sign of weakness and not a medical condition, but that didn't deter Remy from speaking out about his circumstances. And it was a tremendous help to me when I needed it most.
In the latter part of 2009, I was diagnosed with throat cancer and went through a treatment process that took up a good part of 2010. The first part of the year was spent getting over the cancer. The second part of the year was spent getting over the treatments. If Jerry Remy had not spoken out about how long and difficult the healing process can be, I would have had many more problems than I confronted. I owe him big time.
I had had a lump on my neck for several months, but figured if I just ignored it, it would go away. But my doctor, Larry Ronan of Massachusetts General Hospital (who is also Jerry Remy's doctor), insisted that it be looked at. Tests were taken, and soon I was asked by another doctor whom I did not know to come in and see him. I was feeling perfectly fine and suspected nothing was wrong. But when I arrived at the new doctor's office, I noticed a sign next to the door that said, "Center for Head and Neck Cancers."
"Uh oh," I said to myself perceptively.
The new guy got right down to business. "How much do you smoke?" he asked. "I haven't had a cigarette in 50 years," I answered. "Well, how much do you drink?" was his follow-up. "Just a glass of wine or two with dinner," was my reply, neglecting to mention that there had been a time in my salad days when the wine was measured in bottles, not glasses, and that it had been augmented with any number of amber-colored beverages, but that was a long time ago.
"Well," the good doctor said very matter-of-factly, "you've got the same type of cancer that smokers and drinkers get." That was it. There were no ominous drum-rolls, no emotional gasps, no overblown theatrics. There was just me saying, "I guess we should get rid of that lump on my neck, then." "Yes," the doctor patiently explained, "but that's just a symptom, not the cancer itself, which is somewhere in your throat."
So it was that the next several months of my life were to be taken up by chemotherapy treatments, extensive radiation, a feeding tube, several surgeries, and a long recovery period.
I was one of the lucky ones. Once my cancer was gone, it stayed gone. Jerry's keeps coming back. His is like a bad habit that you can't break. It came back in 2013, in 2017, and again in 2018. Now it's back once again. But if there is one thing that Jerry Remy has proven, it's that he's a fighter. There is no quit in him. I wouldn't bet against him this time, or anytime, for that matter.
About two years after my own tussle with cancer, the guy who lived right across the street from me and was a good friend when I lived in the town of Wayland was diagnosed with the same type of throat cancer I had. I visited him in the hospital, told him what to expect as far as treatments were concerned and assured him that things would turn out all right, just as they had for me. I left that visit feeling confident about his recovery and future prospects.
Within a few months my friend and old neighbor, whose name was Don MacMillan, was dead, killed by the cancer from which I had escaped. Why him and not me? He was a bigger, stronger guy than I was and also a couple of years younger, but the cancer he had was more lethal than the one that struck me.
It's been more than a decade since I was diagnosed and treated for cancer, and it all seems like it happened to somebody else. Jerry Remy knows that it's not happening to somebody else because he's still in the thick of the fight. Before you tuck yourself into bed tonight say a prayer for him, and also say one for the memory of Don MacMillan.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.
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