The WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon starts Aug. 18 and Tom Caron will be anchoring much of the event from NESN’s perch under the center-field bleachers at Fenway Park. Caron has been part of this magnificent event since its inception in 2002, and he’s interviewed dozens of Dana-Farber patients and their families in the course of raising millions of dollars for the fight against cancer.
This year will be different for Tom Caron. This year he will better understand the plight of cancer victims and the language they speak.
Caron had a mass removed from his chest in late March and learned that it tested positive for lymphoma just before starting work at the NESN studios on Friday, April 10 — which turned out to be the night the Red Sox and Yankees engaged in a six-hour-49-minute, 19-inning marathon in the Bronx. Caron planned on telling his wife the bad news after he got home that night, but as the game lurched toward midnight, the delay became intolerable. He called home in the middle of the 12th inning.
“Literally, the longest night of my life,’’ says the 20-year veteran of the New England Sports Network. “Those were long moments. You want to think the best, but you just don’t know.’’
He knew what to do. He called Lisa Scherber, the director of Patient and Family Programs at the Jimmy Fund. Scherber has been the “playlady” at the Jimmy Fund clinic since the early 1990s and Caron had spent time talking with her in late March when the Jimmy Fund patients made their annual junket to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. He had no idea he’d be calling her a couple of weeks later with a question about his own cancer.
“Another example of the clashing of the two worlds,’’ says Caron. “I called Lisa right away. She set me up and by the time I reached them Monday morning to tell them what my doctor had said, I was told, ‘Well, your team is reviewing your test.’ So I had a ‘team’ at Dana-Farber that had already gotten the results of the test to go over my options. That’s how good this place is.’’
Caron’s subsequent blood tests and CT have been clean and his prognosis is very good, but he needs to be checked every six months. He’s been told that there’s a 50-50 chance the cancer will return, which would require radiation treatment. Meanwhile, he counts his blessings, enjoys every sandwich, and approaches the Radio-Telethon with new appreciation for folks who live with cancer every day.
“This is my 14th telethon,’’ says the 51-year-old native of Lewiston, Maine. “For years I’ve sat there hearing people share their stories and hearing what a great place the Dana-Farber is. We always talk about how everyone is touched by this cause. It’s absolutely more personal for me now. Something like this happens and you go from the scariest time of your life to the most reassuring time of your life because you’ve got the best people in the world on your side. For 14 years I’ve been talking about what they do there, and now I’ve lived it. I get it more now.’’
Caron’s bout with cancer is the latest chapter in the storied, intertwined saga of Boston baseball and the Jimmy Fund.
Mike Andrews, who was a second baseman for the Red Sox before he served as director of the Jimmy Fund, said, “No team in the history of professional sports has a connection with a charity like the Red Sox have with the Jimmy Fund . . . There is no way to overstate what the Red Sox have done for this cause. Without the Red Sox, it’s hard to imagine where we would be in terms of fund-raising.’’
It all started in 1947 when Dr. Sidney Farber developed a treatment that enabled some cancer-stricken children to go into temporary remission. The Jimmy Fund was born a year later when a young patient at Children’s Hospital received a surprise visit from the Boston Braves as part of a nationwide radio fund-raiser. When the Braves left Boston, the Red Sox made the Jimmy Fund their official charity. Ted Williams jumped in with both feet, starting a procession of Sox players who would visit patients and raise money for pediatric cancer research.
Ted would go anywhere and do anything for the Jimmy Fund. He passed the torch to Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Roger Clemens, John Valentin, Tim Wakefield, and Dustin Pedroia. All of the Red Sox got involved. Stars and subs. It was the same with Sox ownership. The Yawkey name is all over the Dana-Farber Institute, and John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino (twice treated at Dana-Farber) have continued the tradition, as have the voices of the Red Sox. Curt Gowdy taught a generation of New Englanders about the Jimmy Fund and Ken Coleman and Joe Castiglione spread the word after Gowdy. Now we have the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon, anchored by cancer survivor Tom Caron.
“I’m not trying to overdramatize this,’’ Caron says. “By all diagnoses, I’m OK and I’m going to be OK . . . This was a terrifying glimpse of what this is. Fortunately, for me, it was just a glimpse.’’
The WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon has raised more than $37 million since 2002. Caron will be on the set Aug. 18 with fresh eyes and new perspective.
“It’s absolutely more personal now,’’ he says. “I get it more now. It goes from the scariest time of your life to the most reassuring connection of your life because as soon as you walk in there you really do believe you have the best in the world on your side. For years I’ve been talking about what they do. Now I’m seeing it. And I’m very lucky.’’