Joe Clemente had never smoked a cigarette in his life. He had not visited farms or worked in mines. He was a fitness and aerobics instructor. Even the radon levels in his Haymarket home were at acceptable levels. Yet in October 2003, two weeks after the birth of his third child, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
After returning from an August 2003 business trip, Clemente noticed an ongoing cough. He thought that it was probably allergies and was prescribed antibiotics. And then a second set of antibiotics. His cough did not go away so his doctor requested a chest scan, a computerized tomography (CT) scan and a chest X-ray.
In addition to the cough, Clemente also felt a persistent pain in his right hip, which he thought was probably a basketball or other exercise-related injury. But it wasn't healing. It was difficult for him to even sit.
The X-ray revealed a tumor in Clemente's left lung the size of a softball, which could either be a fungus, tuberculosis or cancer.
"I had never smoked, so I figured it was one of the curable other two options," Clemente said. "What were the chances that I had cancer?"
He refused to disturb his wife with the potentially catastrophic news. Instead, he let her sleep the night while he stayed up pondering the possibilities.
CLEMENTE WENT for a biopsy at Reston Hospital and, a day or two later, was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, stage four lung cancer. Basically, cancer is divided into stages one, two, three and four. The greater the number, the bigger the size of the tumor.
And that pain in his hip? Cancerous activity had even spread there as well as his right collarbone. The prognosis was not just unfavorable because it was cancer but also because only 15 percent of lung cancer patients survive after five years.
"I was in shock," he said. "I know that it's a clichŽ, but it felt like I was hit by a Mack truck. It was two weeks after my third child. There was so much euphoria about the birth of my daughter but there were many questions about the future."
Clemente had spent his life as what most people would consider an exceptionally healthy person. He started his career in health and wellness as a personal trainer at the Nautilus of Reston in 1983. He was the assistant manager of the Health Club of Reston, where he volunteered to teach high-impact aerobics. He even showcased his athletic prowess by entering local aerobics and dance contests and completing aerobics and personal fitness certifications. He enrolled in ballet classes. In 1987, he produced a high/low-impact video, "Body Awareness" and won the title of "Best Aerobics Instructor in Reston" by the Reston Connection.
For the next five-six years, he won silver and bronze medals in the regional Crystal Light and Reebok aerobic competitions. He taught at Gold's Gym and other local health clubs. In 1998, he joined the Ashburn Village Sports Pavilion as the general manager.
DESPITE THESE healthy activities, once diagnosed with cancer, he dedicated himself to improving whatever habits were lax. "I ate more whole foods, took supplements, exercised more, managed my stress better," he said. "I also underwent seven rounds of chemo and one month of radiation."
Clemente's faith in God helped him cope with cancer on an emotional and spiritual level and he believes that it is no coincidence that his daughter was born around the same time he was diagnosed. "As a Christian, I believe God had a purpose for me," he said. "Every month that my daughter gets older is another month that I've been alive since the diagnosis."
Since the diagnosis, the relationship with his wife, Diana, is more beautiful and rich than ever before. "She's my rock," he said.
As a fitness instructor, Clemente watched as 300-400 members a year either stayed with his programs or moved on and has realized just how much he has impacted people's lives.
"I discovered that I meant more to people than I thought," he said. "It really gives me the will to live. I will do anything to get to the next day."
For those who have cancer, Clemente knows how difficult it can be to get through the treatments. He emphasized the importance of exercise, stress management and relaxation techniques to survive cancer.
"There are other things out there that the medical community cannot offer like acupuncture and yoga. Explore those things. Different techniques work for different people," he said. "Eat as well and healthy as you can. It may be expensive, but it's your life. How much is it worth?"
Clemente advises cancer patients to have a perspective on life because "if you let yourself go, you're gone before the battle even begins."
For the families of those who have cancer, Clemente said that it is important for family members to stay educated on treatments. "It is a given that they will be under-the-weather. Chemo does that to you," he said. Chemotherapy affects cancer patients in many visible ways, like hair loss, but patients may also lose their desire or energy to eat.
DAN MCNEIL has known Clemente for seven years. Also known as Tennis Dan, McNeil supports cancer research, advocacy, education and support through the American Cancer Society. Tennis Dan sponsors camps, clinics, junior and adult tennis teams in eight different communities for ages 3 and up in Loudoun County.
Tennis Dan is sponsoring the second annual Clemente Cancer Fund Tennis Tournament to benefit the American Cancer Society Aug. 13 and 14 in Ashburn.
The tournament will feature junior tournaments for $30, single adults for $40 and double teams for $50. It will be in a regular tournament format. It will include racket stringing on site with McNeil, who will donate $10 to the ACS for each racket. It will have a raffle and silent auction. All donations to ACS are tax deductible and the net proceeds will be donated to the ACS.
"This is to support Joe," McNeil said. "This is for the people who know him personally, for those who want to play in a tournament for charity, which is not as serious as other tournaments. It's a more relaxed atmosphere."
Clemente recently read Lance Armstrong's book, "Every Second Counts." Clemente believes that everyone, especially cancer patients can learn plenty from this book.
"Lance Armstrong probably has the lung capacity of four or five of us," he said. "I think Lance was agnostic, but even without spirituality he had a great attitude. He was going to fight this, be as strong as he could so he could win races again. We can all have that attitude."