GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A man who met the love of his life in West Michigan is raising money for pancreatic cancer research to keep her memory alive.
Rusty and Wendy Jo Blakely were married for 34 years before a devastating diagnosis in March 2018.
“They found five lesions in her pancreas and some in her liver,” Rusty Blakely told 24 Hour News 8. “They told her she had stage 4 pancreatic cancer and that became our battle.”
Wendy Jo Blakely, a registered nurse, had run a half-marathon in Las Vegas just a few months before the diagnosis. Back pain prompted a visit to the doctor, but the initial appointment did not find anything of concern.
“Pancreatic cancer can steal someone away from you that quick that you love without any signs or symptoms. And being a registered nurse, not even recognizing the symptoms herself. People are just not aware of it until it’s too late,” Blakely said.
Since her death on May 23, 2018, he has made it his mission to raise awareness and funding for continued research. He created a nonprofit, the Wendy Jo Blakely Je T’aime Fund, with plans to raise $100,000 in five years for an endowment fund at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
He has also organized a 5K in Hastings scheduled for May 18, 2019, with the help of friends. The date marks what would have been his wife’s 55th birthday.
“It seems really incredibly cruel that (this happened to) two people that had something that all of us strive for all of our lives and always seem to fall short of,” Steve Hummel told 24 Hour News 8.
The Blakelys relocated to Florida eight years ago, but Rusty Blakely wanted the first 5K to happen where they grew up together and fell in love.
Hummel and his daughter Kristen are two of the people helping Blakely organize the run in his hometown.
“It’s almost infectious,” Kristen Hummel said. “Even if I didn’t think I was going to help out, after one conversation with Rusty, I’m helping. I’m doing everything I can do. That’s kind of how he’s going about this project and I think anyone who interacts with him is like, ‘How can I help? What can I do?'”
When he first reached out, hoping to encourage more people to sign up for the 5K hele in his wife’s honor, Blakely wrote a powerful email to 24 Hour News 8, describing their love story and his heartbreak at her death.
>>App users: Blakely reads part of his email
Blakely hopes to see 300 runners on race day. Those who wish to register can do so online.