MACON – Never a man to go slow, even in death Kerby Damery’s passion for life will continue with a race benefiting cancer patients.
“Live life, don’t just go through it!” was one of his many expressions and now the motto for the namesake KerbySTRONG Foundation.
“(Because) once you’re hit with the devastation of cancer you live stronger,” said his wife of 23 years Nikki Damery.
This Saturday, the foundation is hosting the KerbySTRONG 100 Race at the Macon Speedway, Damery’s hometown track where he raced for the checkered flag throughout his life.
Kerby Damery died Feb. 8 at the age of 49 after an eight-year battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with appendix cancer in 2007, but never lost his positive attitude through years of surgeries and cancer treatments.
“That was Kerby,” Damery said. “He never complained he was always uplifting and always liked to make people laugh.”
After being diagnosed, Damery was determined to continue racing and did so during off treatments, driving his late model series car, that bears the number 10. But his passion eventually became too much of a risk and his last race was in 2010. After that, he wouldn’t even go out and watch.
“That was the hardest part for Kerby that he loved racing and he didn’t want to let that go,” Nikki Damery said.
Macon Speedway owner Bob Sargent was glad to help Kerby Damery return to his hometown track again when Nikki Damery approached him about hosting a fundraiser race.
“It’s an honor to promote the KerbySTRONG 100 Race to remember a good friend and special race car driver,” Sargent said.
He said Damery had a lot of friends in the racing community who will participate this weekend.
“We think a lot of racers will want to be involved with this,” Sargent said.
The KerbySTRONG 100 is both a way to remember Damery and help those still battling cancer by raising money to assist patients with treatment costs and funding a new position to help patients navigate the treatment process. Part of its mission is to promote cancer awareness and screening opportunities.
“We want people like cars, to keep your body tuned up and maintain annual checkups,” Damery said.
Dr. James Wade, one of the oncologists who treated Kerby Damery at the Cancer Care Center of Decatur, said groups like Kerby Strong are part of a larger team of advocates raising awareness one event at a time. This event in particular helps reach a new audience.
“It is a little bit more rural and you’re going to be bringing people in from other counties,” Wade said. “Every bit of outreach gets more people into the fold.”
Wade said in a population Decatur’s size, out of every 100 people screened for cancer, two to five of them will be saved by catching it early. Since appendix cancer is rare, there is no screening for it, but Wade said Kerby’s foundation has recognized the importance of screenings for cancers that can be caught early such as breast, cervix, lung and colon.
He pointed to decreased colon cancer rates as an example of successful, long term awareness efforts. In the past decade, advanced cases of colon cancer dropped about 27 percent. However, Wade said awareness of cancer screenings are crucial because a third of people who should be getting screened for colon cancer still are not.
“Every group that gets the message out pushes the awareness farther into the community,” he said.