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Red Sox skipper John Farrell speaks candidly on how cancer changed him

BOSTON -- At times, John Farrell said, there were seven different medicines coursing through his veins. Days when he was in a hospital bed for seven to 10 hours connected to IV tubes -- what would normally be six months of chemotherapy crammed into eight weeks because of the aggressive nature of the malignant cells that had invaded his body.

Days, Farrell admitted, when the treatment “beat me up a little bit."

And, especially at the beginning, there were the questions -- particularly since there had been no symptoms, no warning signs.

“Maybe there was some frustration," he said. “The frustration came from, ‘I have this cancer, I don’t know how it came about, I don’t know where it came from, but I’ve got it."

Which ultimately led Farrell, as with so many other cancer patients, to make a choice.

“You can put your tail between your legs and feel sorry for yourself," he said, “or the hell with that, I’ve got a very clear, goal-oriented treatment I’ve got to go through."

The plan was laid out by Dr. Jeremy Abramson, the clinical director of the Center for Lymphoma at Massachusetts General Hospital, who served as Farrell’s primary oncologist.

“There were no surprises," Farrell said. “He’s an incredibly intelligent and talented physician. Everything he described played out to a T."

And then came the past couple of days, three weeks after Farrell completed his last treatment. On Wednesday, Farrell underwent something called a Positron Emission Tomography scan. The innocent acronym (PET) doesn’t begin to suggest the gravity of the test --a three-dimensional imaging scan using gamma rays -- used to detect the presence of cancer cells in the body’s organs.

“There’s probably 24 hours of uneasiness and anxiety," Farrell said, “waiting for the results of that scan."

On Thursday, Abramson delivered the news. The scan came back clean. Farrell’s cancer was in remission.

“A tremendous relief, or exhale, when he told me that," Farrell said.

And so, Farrell’s life goes back to being outwardly normal. There are no restrictions in terms of resuming his job as manager of the Boston Red Sox. He’s working on rebuilding his stamina (walking two to three miles, four or five times per week, to accomplish that), but on Saturday he’s boarding a plane to Arizona for five days of organizational meetings headed by new Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and new general manager Mike Hazen, neither of whom was in his current role when Farrell was diagnosed with cancer.

Farrell will wade happily back into the rhythms of a job he has sorely missed. But there is a difference now. The job might be the same. But he is not.

“There are a lot of quiet moments," he said Friday. "A lot of reflection. A lot of the simple things in life begin to gain a greater appreciation. We live in a pretty fast-paced world. Really, what I think it causes you to do is kind of slow down and take a personal inventory and see what’s important around you.

“This in some ways, in many ways, has been a life-changing event. There’s no doubt about it."

That realization did not take long to set in. Soon after the August press conference during which he announced he had cancer (his is known as Burkitt, a non-Hodgkin lymphoma), he received a letter from a Red Sox fan. His father, the fan said, had been watching the press conference on TV. It led him to make a doctor’s appointment to detect the source of the same persistent groin pain he had been experiencing. Turns out he, too, had lymphoma.

“I know there is a message in there," Farrell said, “and an awareness that can be further heightened."

There is a message in this, too. Farrell said that in the frequent conversations he had during his treatment with Torey Lovullo, the bench coach who replaced him as interim manager, they touched upon things that went far beyond what was taking place on the field or in the clubhouse. Things they had never talked about, even though their friendship went back to when they were first teammates.

"When you have life situations that [you find] you're talking about life, other than the game," Farrell said, "I think it not only galvanizes [the relationship] you have already, it deepens that. We talked about a lot of personal things that had not come up in the 20-something years that I've known him. So it grows even further."

Farrell expressed deep gratitude for all the support he has received, from the team owners to close friends to the thousands of strangers who took the time to write. He described the lift it gave him to watch his team play so well without him, the vibrant energy of youth that was on display nightly.

But Thursday’s announcement that Farrell’s cancer was in remission is not the same as a unilateral declaration of victory. Cancer is too insidious for that. There will be scans every three months for a year, then less frequent scans after that. He will be monitored closely.

But the operative word is hope.

“What I’ve come to understand," he said, “is the difference between remission and cure is a matter of time. With each passing scan that likelihood and probability of cure continues to grow.

“There’s a high level of confidence that will be achieved, based on history, based on my individual case, so I’m very confident that ultimate cure status will be achieved."