Kenny McLemore didn’t have the pleasure of meeting all his eight grandchildren, but every year the kids, his wife, Cathy, and their kids honor him at the Sentara “Don’t Sit on Colon Cancer 5K” race as Team McLemore.
“Over the years we’ve had friends and cousins join in,” said Wendy Merritt, 42, the oldest of four children in the McLemore family. “I never know who’s going to sign up. It’s a wonderful day for us to get together. We look forward to the event as a way to celebrate my dad’s life.”
This year’s race will take place March 24 at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach.
Kenny, who lived in Chesapeake and worked as an engineering technician at shipyards in Norfolk and around the world, saw a doctor after experiencing headaches, low energy, diarrhea and bleeding at the age of 39 in 1997. Doctors attributed it to hemorrhoids and low blood sugar. Kenny was always active – hunting, fishing and playing softball – but he still didn’t feel right.
“He wasn’t a complainer,” Wendy said. “He wasn’t the kind of person who laid around, so he kept going.”
After he was too exhausted to attend Cathy’s work Christmas party, the couple, who were high school sweethearts, returned to the doctor. Kenny had a colonoscopy. They were shocked to find he had colon cancer .
Surgery and Treatments
Sentara surgeons removed part of Kenny’s colon in January 1998, and he underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Six months later, Kenny experienced more symptoms. The tumor was back, and doctors recommended treatment in Richmond where he had more surgery and radiation.
“In those years, he really tried to live as normally, as possible,” said Wendy, who has two grown children with her husband, Jeff. “He hunted, fished and even played on two or three softball teams.”
Eventually, the tumor bound to the abdominal aorta and became inoperable. Kenny took oral chemotherapy and doctors continued to monitor the tumor. He died on March 3, 2002, at the age of 44. At the time, Wendy, her brother Kenneth Jr., and her sister, Christina, were in their 20s. The youngest sibling, Michael, was in his teens.
Advocate for Colonoscopies
Wendy shares her dad’s story to remind others to get colonoscopies, even though her dad was younger than the recommended age of 50.
“We want to bring awareness that this disease can strike and any age,” said Wendy, who has already had several colonoscopies because of her family history. “The doctor said his tumor may have been growing for 10 years. Early detection, sharing stories and helping others recognize symptoms may save lives.”
Wendy and her family signed up for their first Don’t Sit on Colon Cancer race in 2012. She felt, especially for her mom, that it would be a healing experience. Her dad’s favorite number for sports was 13, and often they wear shirts with “13” on them for the race.
“We honor him by walking each year,” Wendy said. “The decision to join the ‘Don’t Sit on Colon Cancer’ movement was an easy one!”