My mother died of breast and lung cancer in 2001, just a few weeks shy of her 65th birthday.
I'm biased, of course, but I think she was amazing.
She was born into a large, impoverished family in West Virginia. I can never remember if she was one of 12 children or if she had 12 siblings, but either way, there were a lot of mouths to feed and not much money with which to feed them.
Fresh fruit, something I take for granted, was a special treat for my mother's family. They only got apples and oranges on Christmas morning.
My grandfather was a one-legged coal miner. He toiled in the dark for scrip to spend in the company store. When he couldn't work anymore, driven crazy by uncontrolled diabetes, my Mom dropped out of high school to help take care of the family.
She was a smart woman, though. One of her most bitter memories was of the spelling contest she lost in school. The prize was a full set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, something my mother wanted dearly, and she made it all the way to the final round. She lost on the word "encyclopedia," which she spelled "encylopaedia" because she'd stared at the Britannica set for so long. The judges wouldn't waver, and she went home empty-handed, carrying that disappointment with her the rest of her life.
She moved to Pennsylvania after her fiancÃ© died in a motorcycle accident. There she met my father, whom she later married. They produced five children, of which I am the youngest. My parents emphasized academics, and all of their children went to college.
Mom never really worked outside the home. That didn't serve her well when my father, afflicted by pancreatic cancer, died young at age 53. Suddenly she was left on her own without much earning potential. She did what she could, scrimping and denying herself and falling back on the habits she'd learned as a poor child.
I gave what I could, but it was never as much as I would've liked.
Nine years ago, my brother called me at work to tell me that Mom was in the hospital. She was in bad shape and asking for me. I flew north on the first available flight.
The moment I saw her, I knew she was dying. A couple days later, the doctors confirmed that she had cancer. She had breast cancer that had spread into her lungs. By the time she got to the hospital, it was too late. There was nothing the doctors could do.
She died three weeks later.
I have a good reason for telling you all of this. On Oct. 9, as part of the Ken 2.0 project, I will be participating in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I've donated to this charity before, but this is the first time that I'm walking.
I'm doing it for my own health, because obesity is a contributing factor to cancer, but mainly I'm doing it for my Mom.
Because I love her. Because I miss her. And because I don't want anyone else to lose someone they love to breast cancer.
I'd like to invite you to join me. I'm probably going to walk the whole 5K, but there are a range of distances you can walk or run. We can spend a little time together or the entire race.
If you cannot join me, please consider making a donation to breast cancer research. I'm trying to raise at least $1,000 but hopefully much more.
To join me or to make a donation, please go online to http://tinyurl.com/24wmp9x.
Ken 2.0: Fat to Fit
Staff Writer Ken Raymond began a yearlong weight loss and fitness journey on April 1. Here are his stats:
Height: About 6 feet 1 inch
Beginning weight: 307 pounds
Current weight: 275 pounds