George Kelly – Overcoming the effects of Vietnam’s Agent Orange
What would you do if you discovered that you had a disease and were given 6 months to 4 years to live?
Would you go home and feel sorry for yourself or would you start making short term goals and begin exercising?
George Kelly chose the latter.
In 2009 Kelly was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had it removed in September of the same year.
“After the kidney was removed the blood test showed I still had cancer, so after more testing I was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma,” Kelly said.
There are 32 types different kinds of lymphoma and what Kelly had was Walderstroms macroglaobulinemia and IGM monoclonal gammopathy the majority of it caused from Agent Orange in Vietnam, according to Kelly.
It was after that grave diagnoses that doctors gave Kelly a chance of 6 months to 4 years left of life.
“I had the option of going home and feeling sorry for myself and dying or I could fight it,” Kelly said.
Kelly, a former Vietnam vet decided to fight and the battle is still ongoing.
“I decided to give myself goals to reach 6 months down the road,” he said. “Once I achieved a goal I would set another goal.”
The cancer attacked Kelly’s nerves going into his legs and he began to lose all feeling from the knees down making it difficult for him to walk.
“The VA gave me a wheelchair to use but I was afraid that once I got into it I would never get out of it,” Kelly said.
Last summer at the ‘Salute to Veterans 5K run/walk’ Kelly needed to be pushed the entire 3.1 miles in order to participate, which was a humbling experience for him.
“One of the goals that I had set was to get out of that wheelchair and walk my daughter down a stretch of beach on Molokai for her wedding,” Kelly said.
In February, seven months after being put into the wheelchair, Kelly walked his daughter along a sandy beach in Molokai and accomplished another one of his goals.
“I knew I better start walking before my daughter’s wedding to build up strength. I was afraid I wouldn’t have the discipline to walk on the days that I felt bad from the chemo and the cancer,” Kelly said.
Kelly enlisted the help of a 78 year old former Marine from the Korean War and Vietnam Conflict, by the name of Ric Kama.
“Since that time, every morning at 9 am, except on the days I have doctor’s appointments or chemo treatments we go walking,” Kelly said. “We have also added two more people to our walking group.”
Kelly and his group will walk anywhere from 1 to 4 miles daily. During their walks they will pick up roadside trash and help to eradicate Miconia with his Semper Fi walkers.
During the Merry Monarch parade Kelly participated by doing the walk with the aid of a walker.
This tough 67 year old was born in Great Falls, Montana and ended up attending Kailua High School on Oahu and followed that up with attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Kelly will also be careful with the foods he eats.
“I need to eat foods that counter the anemia from chemo, fruits and green vegetables,” he said. “I do eat a lot of fish and shrimp instead of the red meats.”
But Kelly admits to going out and splurging for an occasional banana split for breakfast!
“I look at living life to the fullest. I know that if you have cancer you don’t need to worry about the rain, just learn how to dance in it,” Kelly said of his breakfast banana split.
Kelly was elected as commander of VFW Post 3830 for three years before taking a year off and has now been re elected commander.
“I needed to take a year off to try to improve my health and now I’m ready to serve again,” Kelly said.
As commander one of Kelly’s many jobs is to help all the other vets in the lower Puna area.
“We help vets from the world war II to the newer conflicts such as Iraq, Afghan, and the others,” he said. “We try to help the homeless get out of the bush and we just had a homeless veteran stand down on May 25 at the armory in Keaau.”
The tireless Vietnam vet that still has terminal cancer will work to make sure that vets are able to get their medical, educational and housing benefits.
“We work in the local community to give scholarships, to aid the needy families, help the abused women’s shelter, and work with the elderly and to give to the food bank,” Kelly said.
On July 4 Commander Kelly will once again participate in the ‘Salute to Veterans 5K’ but this time, instead of being pushed in a wheel chair, he will attempt to walk the entire 3.1 distance with his Semper Fi group.
Profits from the Salute to Veterans 5K run/walk will go to VFW Post 3830’s building fund whose goal is expand their facility to serve the many homeless vets and others in the Pahoa community desperately needing their services, according to Kelly.
You can join George Kelly and the many veterans that will participate in the Salute to Veterans 5K on July 4 by calling run event coordinator Marlene Hapai at 966-9894 to get an application or go on line at www.vfwpost3830.com and click on 5K run/walk.
And someday should you happen to see another Vietnam Veteran walking the back roads of East Hawaii remember to say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”