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Benny Parsons story


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Schedule Results Drivers Tracks Cup Chase Wally's World NASCAR on NBCGlad to be back at the track

By Benny Parsons

Special to NBCSports.com

As I sit here on a beautiful fall day in Martinsville, Va., I can't believe how blessed I am. The leaves are turning, the air is crisp, and the chase is on. This is a very exciting time of the year for any race fan, but you cannot imagine how exciting this is for old BP.

On July 13, the day after my 65th birthday, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I hadn't been feeling well for a while, and I knew something was wrong. Still, I wasn't prepared to hear my doctor say, "You have lung cancer." I guess nobody really ever could be. I didn't break down in tears. I didn't think that my life was over. I just felt strange -- surreal.

I had stopped by the doctor's office on my way to the airport. I was heading up to New Hampshire, looking forward to covering the Lenox Industrial Tools 300. Obviously, things were different now, and I had a lot more on my mind. Still, I figured there'd be no harm in traveling up to Loudon. I could go see my oncologist on Monday.

Benny Parsons is a NASCAR racing legend.So I left the doctor's office, went home to tell my wife and family about my condition, then went to the airport to fly to New Hampshire. It was a huge mistake, and that weekend was probably the worst couple of days I've ever had.

The hardest thing was not knowing how bad the cancer was? Was it treatable? Had it spread to other organs? I just didn't know, and it drove me crazy. I also didn't tell anyone up in New Hampshire what was going on with me, so there was really no one to talk to there.

I don't know if I've ever been so nervous or as uncomfortable as I was sitting in the oncologist's office on Monday. The waiting was torture. When the oncologist came out after looking over my scans and taking some blood, he told me, "This is not a death sentence. The cancer is isolated in the left lung and it hasn't spread. The other good news is that you are otherwise healthy and we can start treatment immediately."

His words lifted my spirits, and though I knew a long road lay ahead, I was feeling positive. The uncertainty was gone, and I had a bounce in my step as I left his office.

A day or two later, NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick called. Rick had beaten leukemia 10 years ago and told me that I had to see his doctor, Dr. Steven Limentani of Charlotte. He swore by Dr. Limentani, so I went to see him immediately.

Dr. Limentani decided to treat my condition aggressively, and for the next 12 weeks he put me through a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. As anyone who has had, or knows somebody who has undergone chemotherapy treatments, they can be a tough deal. Chemo tires you out, and while it kills cancer cells, chemo also kills healthy cells. My white and red blood cell counts became dangerously low during the treatment. I once had to spend three days in hospital.

I still followed the races and worked as much as I could. I ended up missing Michigan, California, Loudon, and Kansas. I just didn't feel well enough to travel. The folks at NBC and TNT, though, couldn't have been more understanding. "Get well BP, they told me. That is your first priority."

By Talladega, I was feeling better. Hendrick was instrumental in my recovery and had been flying me to races on his private plane so I could come in and leave on race day. He flew me down to the UAW-Ford 500 on Oct. 8. I can't tell you how good it felt to be at the track that Sunday.

The Wednesday before the Bank of America 500 at Lowe's, I had another scan. My doctor couldn't believe what he saw. "Remarkable!" he told me. "Ninety-nine percent of the cancer is gone!"

I went to Lowe's the next day and hung around the garage. It was the first time I had been back there since I had been diagnosed. To be able to talk racing and cars with friends -- I can't express how good that felt. And to see the smiles on the drivers' and crews' faces when they saw me -- it was an unbelievably gratifying feeling.

Someone asked me why I think I was able to beat the cancer so quickly. Now, I don't know if I've beaten it. I'm continuing to fight, and it looks like I'm winning. I got a nose in front for sure. Why? Besides being blessed, I think there are two reasons.

The first is Dr. Limentani's aggressive treatment. While the side effects were tough, his treatment and constant monitoring of my situation were invaluable. Hardly a day went by when he didn't check up on me. As good as the medicines were, his care was just as, if not more, important.

The second reason, and one for which I will ever be grateful, is the outpouring of love and concern from fans. I received thousands of cards and e-mails from people who I don't know. When "strangers" -- and I use that word cautiously because they aren't really strangers -- pour their souls out to you explaining how they or loved ones battled against cancer, it humbles you.

Sunday school classes wrote me, telling me to get well, and saying that they were praying for me. I received cards from Catholic and Baptist churches, Methodist congregations, and Jewish synagogues. It seemed like everyone in the world was pulling for me. I wish I had the words to describe how appreciative I am of their cards, letters, thoughts and prayers.

To everyone who wrote or had me in their prayers or thoughts, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You truly did make me better. And for those of you who may not be feeling well, please see a doctor. It may be nothing, but just in case, the earlier you catch a problem the better.

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