Retired teacher to hike for daughter he lost to cancer

He lost two important women in his life to ovarian cancer.

First, his mother: She died in 1942, when he was only 14 years old. She was 42.

Sixty-four years later, in 2006, his daughter, Michelle, died, also at age 42.

Jack Kendrick was by the side of both women when they died.

“It was pretty devastating,” he said. “I was thinking a year ago, ‘Maybe there’s something I could do.’”

Now, what can an 85-year-old retired junior high school teacher possibly do to cure ovarian cancer?

Well, he’s taking a hike.

He’s training to spend several weeks backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail in the Cascade Mountains in late July. A buddy from college (University of Washington, Class of ‘62) is going with him all the way. A son is joining them on the first leg starting at Goat Rocks Wilderness and hiking north.

Kendrick figures they can do 10 miles a day.

“My goal is to do at least 100 miles,” he said. “I’m in pretty good shape for my age. I’ve been blessed with a good body.”

And a good mind. “I have this philosophy. I tell people: ‘Old age is like freezing to death. If you keep moving it doesn’t happen as fast,’” he said.

“Maybe I’ll do 200 miles.”

Kendrick taught biology in Shoreline and has lived in north Edmonds for 60 years. His two sons, Michael and David, live in Snohomish County and a daughter, Cindy, lives in Burien.

Daughter Michelle was an English professor at Washington State University in Vancouver. That’s why he approached Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Oregon &SW Washington with his “Hiking for Michelle” campaign.

“She was a very popular professor,” said Diane Rader O’Connor, president of the cancer nonprofit based in Vancouver. “She was beautiful and talented. She had everything going for her.”

It wasn’t enough to defend her from what O’Connor terms “the deadliest of the gynecologic cancers.”

“Ovarian cancer is typically not found until later stages,” she said, “because it is difficult to diagnose and there is no screening test.”

Kendrick said after Michelle’s diagnosis she learned she carried the gene that sharply increases the chances of ovarian cancer. He suspects his mother, Grace, also had the gene defect.

He hopes his hike will somehow help future victims.

“Hiking for Michelle” has already raised about $4,000 in pledges and the hike is still six weeks away.

“When I started out I thought maybe $3,000,” he said, “but it is going so well maybe double that.”

Kendrick has stayed busy since leaving the classroom in 1990. “If I sit around watching television I get logy,” he said. “I ran five marathons after I retired.”

In 1996, he went with Michelle to run the Boston Marathon. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2001.

“It was a repeat of what had happened to my mother,” he said. “My daughter slowly wasted away. I was there when she died. She died at home.”

Kendrick credits his mom with sparking his adventurous spirit as a teen. “After my mother died, I was devastated for three years,” he said. “I got into reading true adventure stories as an escape. That sort of set me up for the rest of my life. I was always looking for adventure.

“A high school friend and I got involved in The Mountaineers. That probably saved my life. I had a peer group. There was no smoking or drinking. It was all about keeping in shape.”

His genius wasn’t always tempered with wisdom. When he was 21, he and a friend paddled a canoe from Washington to Alaska — and lived to tell about it.

“We were gone two months. We did not have a brain in our heads but we had lots of muscle,” he said.

Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com

For more information about the Jack Kendrick and his hike, go to www.ovariancancerosw.org/donateMichelle.php or www.hikingformichelle.com.

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