He was just going to work, same as always, no big deal. The headaches were painful, but nothing the 43-year-old hockey player couldn't handle. He'd been getting them for a couple of months, but hadn't really bothered to mention them. What was the point? They were just headaches and anyway, Jimmy Lang had to go to work.
Then, one day in November, Jimmy went to the nurse at the Hynes Convention Center where he works as a Local 82 Teamster. She sent him to the emergency room and a cat scan revealed a brain tumor. He had surgery a few days later and learned that he had an aggressive, cancerous brain tumor known as a Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), otherwise known as an Astrocytoma. The question for Jimmy, whose younger sister Susie survived breast cancer over five years ago, was whether to fight a very tough battle or he could give up.
Billy Smith of South Boston has been a friend of Jimmy's since childhood and played hockey with him for years. He describes Jimmy as "a non-stop player" who never gives up, even if it ruffles some feathers. He remembers a hockey game years back when defensive player Jimmy was yelling to his teammates to step up their game. One guy on the team thought Jimmy was yelling at him and according to Billy, was taking it to heart. The two teammates ended up coming to blows on the ice.
"The refs stopped the fight," said Billy, "but they thought it was pretty strange having to break up two guys on the same team."
Tom Counts, another childhood friend, explains Jimmy's loyalty. Tom was flying into Logan, where Jimmy and some friends were to pick him up for a bachelor party in Maine. Tom's flight was three hours late and delayed another hour at the gate. Everyone wanted to leave. Everyone but Jimmy. Tom explains, "On the ride up to Maine, everyone was saying how much they wanted to just go, but Jimmy would never leave a friend behind. If he says he'll be there, he'll be there," said Tom.
Jimmy is the third of five kids, originally from Roxbury. He has an older sister, Debbie. His brother Frank, 44, is wrapping up his third tour in Iraq, serving in the Air National Guard out of Otis Air Force Base. He also has two younger sisters Dianne and Susie. They are a very devoted family and Debbie said, "I don't know a family that's closer."
Jimmy adores his 18-year-old daughter Jessica, a freshman at UMass-Boston and lives with his longtime girlfriend Sandra on Carruth Street.
"Jimmy is all about his family," said Debbie.
In fact, Jimmy's father undertook the adventure of walking the Appalachian Trail. He started in March in Georgia and finally finished just last month in Maine. Jimmy joined him in September - before his diagnosis - to hike Mount Washington and Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. When Jimmy got the news about his cancer, he didn't want his father's trek cut short and asked his family not to tell him. Said sister Debbie, "That's Jimmy. He didn't want my father to stop what he was doing."
Jimmy is perhaps best known as a barber at Eddie's Barber Shop on Neponset Avenue, where he has worked for at least ten years. Shop owner and close friend Eddie Deltufo described in Jimmy a "mental toughness" he said inspires him. Eddie talked about the day he went to see Jimmy after his diagnosis to cheer him up. Eddie said, "I learned a lot about Jimmy that day. I thought I was going to be there for him, but I left there getting something from him. That's typical of Jimmy."
Michael Durfee is a member of Teamsters Local 82 with Jimmy. He is also one of his regular barbershop customers and a close friend. He said Jimmy is a bit embarrassed by all the attention and offers of help, but that he'd be the first one to show up if it was anyone else. "He's a good man, and that's why so many people want to be there for him," said Michael. He summed it up this way. "Jimmy is my union brother, my barber, and my dear friend. I love him and I know he'll beat this."
Jimmy Lang's friends have planned a time for him on Friday, Jan. 18 at Florian Hall beginning at 7p.m. Tickets are $25 and available at the door. DJ Mike Keeley will provide the entertainment and there will be raffles and silent auctions, but mostly family and friendship. Please stop by and show your support.