<bt>For Joe and Diana Clemente, last October should have been one of the happiest months of their married lives. The parents of two children, the Haymarket couple welcomed their third child, Isabella, into their family.
All seemed well. All except a consistent and persistent hacking cough that Joe Clemente, the former general manager of the Health Club of Reston, had endured since August. On the insistence of his wife, Clemente went to see a doctor, right around the time Isabella was born. “Initially, they thought it was nothing more than a reoccurring sinus infection,” he said.
When antibiotics didn’t cure his nagging cough, Clemente went back to the doctor for a chest ex-ray. The ex-ray showed a large mass on his left lung. One week and a lifetime later, a biopsy confirmed the worst: Clemente had lung cancer. Three weeks after watching the birth of his second daughter, Clemente had to face his own mortality.
“To say the least, October was very traumatic for our family,” Clemente said. “It felt like a Mac truck had hit us.”
WITH NO FAMILY HISTORY and no abnormally high environmental risk factors raising red flags, doctors still have not been able to tell Clemente why or how he got the disease. “It was very shocking and surprising since I had never smoked in my life,” Clemente said. “The focus has been how do we maximize the therapies and minimize the tumors, not how I got it.”
Almost overnight, Joe and Diana Clemente threw themselves into studying everything there was to know about lung cancer, and more importantly, how to beat it. The initial facts were not terribly comforting, he said. “With adenocarcinoma, the most common type of lung cancer, there is only a 15 percent survival rate for five years and beyond. It is one of the most fatal forms of cancer,” he said. “I have hope though because most of those people are heavy smokers whose lungs are compromised by years of smoking.”
Since his October diagnosis, Clemente, who, despite the cancer, has stayed true to his characteristically positive and optimistic demeanor, has had four sessions of chemotherapy, and already the tumor has been reduced 50 percent in size. “I am going to beat this,” he said.
Clemente credits his wife and their faith with helping him get through the difficult times. “It was really our faith in God that carried us through all of this,” he said.
Despite his faith in God, Clemente admits that there are times when the circumstances threaten to overwhelm him. “I am a human being, so, of course, I wished I would rather not have the disease,” he said. “At the same time, the overwhelming feeling is that God has put this trial in my life to see how I will respond and to prepare me for something better.”
BY ALL ACCOUNTS, Joe Clemente was the picture of health. He never smoked a cigarette, took up ballet as an adult and even competed in regional aerobic competitions. For 17 years, Clemente, who lives in Haymarket worked in the fitness industry. Beginning in 1983 as a personal trainer at the Nautilus club in Reston, Clemente became the assistant general manager for the Health Club of Reston where he worked his way up to general manager in 1995 before leaving for a similar position in Ashburn Village. During his tenure at the Health Club of Reston, Clemente gained a reputation as one of the most sought after aerobic instructors in the area.
Now his former clients and co-workers, as well as his family, are rallying to his defense.
In a show of solidarity with Clemente, the Northern Virginia fitness community is doing what it does best: exercise. As millions of Americans settle into their sofas and recliners this Super Bowl Sunday, hundreds of Clemente’s biggest supporters will be at the Reston YMCA taking part in the “Workout for Joe ‘Fun’ Raiser.” The Feb. 1 benefit is being planned to raise funds for Clemente’s mounting medical bills.
“With cancer, you just never know what kind of expenses may be out there that aren’t covered by insurance,” Clemente said. “This fund-raiser is very humbling for me. To know that people are thinking about you means a lot, but when they organize something of this size and then you start hearing from people who you haven’t talked to in years, it just makes you feel like you have touched their life in some way.”
Liz Spoone used to work for Clemente at the Reston fitness center, now Spoone is helping to organize Sunday’s event. Spoone said she has had no problem galvanizing support within the close-knit fitness community. “As soon as I heard, I wanted to help in any way that I could. The response has just been amazing, everyone wants to help,” Spoone said. “It’s a testament to the kind of great guy that Joe is. He is such a gentle kind person and he always looks for the positive in everything. He never has a negative thought.”
T.R. Clemente, Joe Clemente’s father, isn’t surprised at the outpouring of support for his youngest son. “What can I say? He’s the best."
Clemente’s mother-in-law, Anne Wishard of Reston, couldn’t agree more. “No matter what happens, Joe is the ultimate optimist and he has more courage than anyone I know. If anyone can beat this, Joe can,” Wishard said. “He just cares about people, so it isn’t surprising that people are showing their support for him.”