Perdue won battle with cancer, now focused on grueling marathon

Sep. 27, 2013 @ 03:53 PM

Don’t tell Kelley Wade Perdue she can’t do something.

Perdue’s Duke University Medical Center doctor made that mistake when he told her running a marathon wasn’t a good idea.

“No, Kelley,” he said. “It’s impossible. You just really need to take it easy.”

Taking it easy wasn’t an option for Perdue before or after the Henderson native was diagnosed with Stage II of Hodgkin’s lymphoma last August.

The cancer only strengthened her desire to live a healthy life. In remission since May, she’s been working out harder than ever before in preparation for January’s 26.2-mile Walt Disney World Marathon.

She’ll represent the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, an endurance sports training program dedicated to raising money towards cures for blood cancers.

“You can’t just sit there and feel sorry for yourself,” said Perdue, 35. “You have to keep going.

The diagnosis

Perdue was living a healthy lifestyle. She worked out daily and had perfect blood work.  

Perdue was in the middle of a workout when she noticed a lymph node pop up on her neck. She thought it was a muscle spasm until another one showed up about a month later.

“I have two children,” said Perdue. “I have a life. I have a job. I have a husband. I was going to school. My whole world was just perfect and just bam. I didn’t want cancer to take over. And it wasn’t and it hasn’t.”

When Perdue got the Hodgkin’s diagnosis, her first question was “When is my appointment?”

She was ready to get the treatment started, ready to beat cancer.

Perdue had her best friend shave her head when the chemotherapy began taking her hair. Her fingernails and toenails turned black. Her veins felt like they were on fire and she couldn’t eat much more than a milkshake.

Still, Perdue didn’t shed a tear for herself. It hurt her feelings more to watch someone else go through the treatment and she was more worried about her daughters, Emileigh and Taylor, and husband, Kevin.

How would Emileigh and Taylor, now 10 and 8, respectively, cope without their mom around?

“Any child needs their mama,” said Perdue. “And I wasn’t there for them. My husband had to act like their mama. I think that was the hardest thing for me because I couldn’t do like I could do before.”

If Perdue saw stairs, she took them. She didn’t need an elevator and she didn’t want a wheelchair.

“You need to give that to the next person because I don’t need it,” she told the doctors.

“I never wanted to give in,” said Perdue. “And I’m telling you. I never gave into it.”

Determined to win

Perdue got hooked on running marathons last fall, already having been through two rounds of chemo. Her last rounds were in January.

She plans to run six 5Ks before the Orlando event.

In training, Perdue started running one or two miles a week. Now she’s up to 22-24 miles and she’s down about 18 inches since the middle of May.

Perdue spends about 15 hours per week in either the Team Care gym in Oxford or the Henderson YMCA. The 1996 J.F. Webb graduate runs the sidewalks of Oxford and the track at the Y.

Perdue swims, cross trains and takes yoga, Zumba and Pilates classes. She practices high-intensity aerobics, boxes and lifts weights. She can bench press 110 pounds.

“It’s not just running and doing a few little weights here and there,” said Perdue. “I’m burning a lot of calories.”

Perdue said she didn’t have the endurance before her diagnosis that she does now.

Her diet has also changed. It’s all about protein. No bread and she likes to get her sugar from fruits.

“It makes me feel so good,” said Perdue. “And people are like, ‘I can’t do that.’ Yes, you can. Don’t say you can’t do something.”

When she’s not training, Perdue works from home for an insurance company. Cancer forced her to set aside her education, but she’s taking online classes again now as she pursues a master’s degree in business with a concentration in healthcare administration from East Carolina University.

September is Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month and Perdue’s passion is being an advocate for leukemia and lymphoma research.

“If I can affect just one person to make them realize that they’re going to be OK,” said Perdue. “I want to be that person.”

Marcus Hicks is Perdue’s personal trainer. He manages the Team Care gym and has known Kelley for about three years. He said she’s always been a person that likes challenges, but cancer made her even more determined.

Her personality — that hasn’t changed much.

“Her personality is very hyper,” said Hicks. “She is a very hyper person especially when she has her mind on doing something.”

Hicks said Perdue’s intense facial expressions tell everything about her focus.

“Sometimes I have to yell at her through her headphones because she’ll be in her zone during her workout,” said Hicks. “Very focused on the goals she sets.”

Perdue is focused on the Disney Marathon now and Hicks is confident she will own it.

So is she.

“I said I was going to beat cancer and I did,” said Perdue. “I said I was going to run this marathon.”

And she will.

Make a donation in support of Kelley’s trip to Orlando and Team In Training’s efforts to help advance the research for cancer cures.

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