LACEY, Wash. – The wide world of friends and family of Terry Lee gathered Saturday at Saint Martin’s University, where he played basketball 30-odd years ago, to celebrate his life and mourn his death.
Lee, 56, died Nov. 14 of the cancer he had battled for years. That the deadly melanoma claimed his life was surprising only because Lee had gotten a clean bill of health in his most recent checkups.
“DAMN CANCER,” Lee’s mother, Theresa Lee Hood, wrote in an email to me a week or so after his death.
“ … He fought a great fight and we all thought he had won since his last two testings all came back clear and doc said come back in 6 months and not 3. Then it struck with a vengeance a couple of weeks ago and it was thought he had a stroke. However, it was the melanoma and went for the brain.”
The plain truth is, melanoma, which starts as a skin cancer, almost always gets you when it has you.
Lee knew the odds, and knew they weren’t stacked in his favor. In an interview for a 2010 column I wrote for The Olympian, Lee talked about a couple guys named Danny who died of melanoma before him.
One was Danny Federici, the longtime keyboardist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, who died in 2008. The Danny Federici Melanoma Fund was launched after his death to help finance melanoma research and raise awareness of the disease.
Lee never knew Federici, but the other guy, Dan Lee, who died in 2002, was a close friend. Dan’s first symptom of melanoma was a mole that was itching, Terry Lee said.
“I thought I was golden,” Lee said in the 2010 interview. “Mine didn’t itch.”
“Mine” was a nasty-looking spot on the back of his thigh. The doctor who saw it first in 2005 sent him to a dermatologist immediately. The surgery that followed soon after carved a wide swath from his leg, the first of a long series of surgeries and treatments.
Terry Lee knew the odds. But he packed a lot of life and a lot of golf into his last seven years. He loved to sail, and was accomplished at it. He gathered strength from a workout and support program at the YMCA sponsored by the Livestrong Foundation.
I made Lee’s acquaintance first in the same basketball city league. Later, I got to know him better through the articles we did together.
Tough guy, nice guy, able to be realistic and ever ready to laugh about his life and what it had brought him.
I do regret that we never played a round of golf together.