Michelle Lemieux was anxious when she found out she was getting the chance to throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park before a Boston Red Sox game.

Who wouldn’t be?

Michelle Lemieux of Minot is shown on the scoreboard at Fenway Park when she threw out the first pitch before the Boston Red Sox’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers last Sunday in Boston. Submitted photo

But Lemieux’s instant nervousness wasn’t as much about the thought of trying to complete the ceremonial task in front of 36,000 people as it was about the then-current condition of her right throwing arm.

Lemieux was at the Heart of Hope fund’s annual banquet in April at the Franco Center in Lewiston when good friend Dan Cunliffe broke the should-have-been-exciting news to her.

“The day of the event he actually called me up on stage, and I was like, ‘Why’s he calling me up on stage?'” said Lemieux, a native of Lewiston who now lives in Minot. “So he hands me a baseball and says, ‘This is a magic baseball,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re not going to make me throw this, right?’ — because I have a little bit of problems with my right arm … and he goes, ‘Well not now, but on July 14 you and your family are going to be going to Fenway.’

“And I was like ‘What?’ And he said, ‘And you’re going to be throwing out the first pitch.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And I started crying.”

Lemieux said she is a big Red Sox fan, but that’s not the real reason Cunliffe — owner of Republic Jewelry and Collectibles in Auburn — “kind of set everything up,” as Lemieux put it.

Lemieux is battling cancer — her second go-around with breast cancer, to be exact. This second bout she is dealing with came back stronger, and metastasized to her lungs and brain.

“He knows my journey, and he knows what I’ve been through, and he knows that I’m a huge Red Sox fan,” Lemieux said.

The problems with Lemieux’s right arm are tied to the cancer she is battling. She said she felt “totally paralyzed” in the arm after getting home from the hospital following brain surgery, in which she had a cancerous tumor removed, in April 2018.

It was just one of the many hurdles Lemieux has had to overcome in what she calls her “cancer journey,” which has included initially beating the disease, seeing it come back, then chemotherapy, radiation and numerous visits to multiple hospitals.

Physical therapy has gotten the arm back to 90 percent of where it used to be, according to Lemieux, who said she still has some troubles with wrist movement.

After the first-pitch surprise, Lemieux did what any big baseball fan would do — started practicing. Using a batting cage behind her house, and with the guidance of her baseball-playing son, Cameron, Lemieux started taking practice reps for her one chance that was only a few months away.

“I tried with my left (arm) and it just felt awkward to me,” Lemieux said. “It wasn’t too bad (with my right arm).”

After all that practicing — and continued cancer-fighting — the day finally came last Sunday. Cunliffe drove the family (Michelle, husband Keith, Cameron and daughter Alivia) down to Fenway Park. Lemieux said they were treated like royalty. They got to watch Red Sox batting practice from the field, take a tour of Fenway and met rookie Michael Chavis.

Eventually it was time for the pregame festivities before the nationally televised game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a rematch of last year’s World Series (won by the Red Sox).

“I thought I would be nervous walking out there, but I just kind of tuned out the crowd and just was focusing on getting the ball, throwing it out,” Lemieux said.

She was able to pick out her fans in the crowd, who she could hear calling out, “Go Michelle!”

Lemieux said she was determined to throw from the mound, but knew she wouldn’t be able to make it the entire 60 feet, six inches to home plate, so she had the ball girl whom she was throwing to step onto the infield grass.

Lemieux said she was afraid to hit the ball girl in the face, so her throw went a little wide. But Lemieux was still happy with it, even if the ball “got a little bit of a grass stain from Fenway.”

“The crowd was amazing,” Lemieux said.

She then became part of that crowd, and she was able to sit in seats close to the field and near the Red Sox dugout. During the third inning, she and Keith got the chance to watch the game from inside the Green Monster, where Lemieux said Keith (unknowingly) signed his name just above Neil Diamond’s. Upon exiting the wall she was greeted by a group of her friends in left field who cheered her some more.

The game went to extra innings, and the Red Sox lost, but Lemieux and her family were determined to stay until the end, which they did. The 4 a.m. return home was worth it.

“It was just an amazing experience, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Like, I’m still on a high from it. It’s just crazy. It feels like it was just a dream,” Lemieux said.

In reality, Lemieux still has a battle to fight. She was scheduled to go back down to Boston (to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, not Fenway) this Sunday for more cancer scans.

“I’m going to be on chemo probably for the rest of my life, unless there’s a miracle and they develop a cure, and I’m OK with that,” Lemieux said. “I’m going to try to beat this cancer, that’s my ultimate goal. I want to be the one that says, ‘I survived cancer.’

“Until then, I’m just going to continue on this journey and trust the doctors that I have in my journey, and have faith in them.”

Lemieux also uses her own positivity to keep going in the fight, and days like she had at Fenway (“It was like the best day ever,” she said) help give her that extra boost to get through the hard days.

“The bad news is hard to handle, but I bounce right back,” she said.

“I’ve never been one to give up,” she added. “Just like I’m a fighter, because this isn’t going to kill me, I have too much to live for.”


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