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Former teammate Lambo confident Pirates' Taillon will conquer cancer

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 1:00 p.m.
The Pirates' Andrew Lambo bats against the Twins during 2014 spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Andrew Lambo bats against the Twins during 2014 spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.
Pirates first baseman Andrew Lambo tries to corral a pop-up in front of pitchers during drills during 2014 spring training at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Andrew Lambo tries to corral a pop-up in front of pitchers during drills during 2014 spring training at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
The Pirates' Andrew Lambo bats against the Twins during 2014 spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Andrew Lambo bats against the Twins during 2014 spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.

Andrew Lambo has no doubt Jameson Taillon, who on Monday had surgery for suspected testicular cancer, will conquer the disease and return to the mound for the Pirates.

Lambo, an outfielder with the Pirates from 2013-15, began his own battle with testicular cancer last June. Now cancer-free, he is playing for the Oakland A's Triple-A affiliate in Nashville, Tenn.

“It's all about the mindset,” Lambo said. “I know Jameson, so I know he's thinking, ‘I'm going to kick this thing's (butt) and move on.' I know that kid's got a lot of heart, and he's got a lot of brass. He's going to do it.”

Lambo and Taillon became friends in 2013, when they were teammates at Double-A Altoona. The following summer, they spent several weeks together doing injury rehabs at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

Taillon, who was in the early stages of recovering from Tommy John surgery, impressed Lambo by the way he approached his workouts.

“Jameson was an absolute animal,” Lambo said. “He embraced the grind that was in store for him.”

Taillon made his big league debut last season. By then, Lambo had moved on to the A's, so it has been a while since the two friends last talked.

When he found out Taillon was in Allegheny General Hospital recovering from surgery, Lambo grabbed his cellphone and texted his former teammate.

“When you see that (news about Taillon), it definitely lights you up,” Lambo said. “I wanted to let him know there are thoughts and prayers for him.”

Taillon, 25, had some discomfort in his groin after pitching five innings against the Miami Marlins on April 28. After being examined Sunday by Dr. John C. Lyne, Taillon had surgery Monday morning.

Taillon will under go further testing in the weeks and months ahead. There is no timeline for when he might rejoin the Pirates.

Lambo, 28, knew something was wrong in June, but it took him a few days to build up the courage to visit a doctor. An ultrasound exam turned up an abnormality and a CT scan confirmed the tumor.

“I was more nervous about what kind of cancer it was than I was about getting told I had cancer,” Lambo said. “The biggest scare is if it's aggressive or non-aggressive. If it spreads around the body, that's when things get a complicated. When we found out it was a non-aggressive cancer, it was a relief.”

Lambo was able to resume workouts about four weeks after having surgery to remove a testicle. A checkup later revealed a small spot on a lymph node, and Lambo began bracing for chemotherapy.

“You want to avoid chemotherapy and radiation at all costs, because there are some lingering effects,” Lambo said. “But I wanted to knock this thing out of my body, so I was on board for anything.”

The spot did not turn up in subsequent tests, though, so Lambo was able to resume a normal recovery. He didn't begin planning a comeback with the A's until after he was fully cleared by his doctor.

“Baseball was the last thing on my mind,” Lambo said. “As much as I love this game, if all you think about is the game and what you need to do to get back, you start going down some dark alleys. Your main objective is being positive, staying positive and getting healthy. That's it. Then, you go from there.”

Although there was little chance Lambo could have played again last season, the A's let him work out with the team while he was on the disabled list. He got dozens of texts and calls during his rehab.

“It's part of being in the baseball family,” Lambo said. “One of the wonderful things about this game is everyone knows there are more important things than baseball. Life is more important. It gives you a confidence boost.”

Lambo opened this season with Nashville. He doesn't blame cancer for his performance — Lambo is batting .133 through 24 games — but realizes missing half of last season set him back.

The slow start doesn't seem to have fazed Lambo. He thinks back to one of his checkups last year, when the results came back clean and Lambo asked his doctor what he should do next.

“She told me, ‘Go live your life,' ” he said.

Until the A's tell him he's no longer in their plans, Lambo will keep playing ball. When the team visits Nashville hospitals, his name usually is first on the sign-up list.

“I used to be really scared of the whole cancer situation. I couldn't even look at kids who have it,” Lambo said. “This opened my eyes. I know it's really awesome to give confidence and support to people who don't have something like a baseball community to lean on for help.

“A lot of people are dealing with what I had to deal with and what Jameson has ahead of him. You take a step back and say, ‘How can I help other people who are in my situation?' Maybe you enjoy things you didn't enjoy before. Maybe you build relationships you never had before.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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