Kensington Man Who Battled Rare Cancer Honored at Memorial Service
Andrew Lee's 'unflagging cheerfulness and optimism' was inspiring, NIH director said
Maryland's first lady presented a tribute from the state during Saturday's service in North Bethesda.
Andrew Hebberd Lee was driven, and he was awesome.
That’s how several hundred friends, family and his doctors remembered him Saturday morning at a memorial service at The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.
Lee, of Kensington, died April 21 after battling stage four hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell cancer, an aggressive kidney cancer that has no known cure. Doctors gave Lee a prognosis of about a year at the time of diagnosis at the age of 19, just after his first year at the University of New Hampshire.
Lee exceeded those expectations and survived for four years after his diagnosis through his participation in experimental treatments and trials. According to the National Institutes of Health, people are commonly diagnosed with the cancer in their 40s.
After the diagnosis, Lee’s father Bruce bought him his dream car, a Nissan GTR. That car served as a catalyst for Lee to establish Driven To Cure, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and funds for rare and deadly kidney cancers.
At the time of his death, Lee had raised more than $400,000 to support the NIH Clinical Center’s kidney cancer research, according to the NIH. Speakers at the memorial said that his contributions now total more $500,000.
“My GTR has proven to be the closest thing I have to a cure for my cancer,” Lee wrote on the Driven To Cure website. “Driving the GTR has become a tremendous outlet for me. The places I have gone, the people I have met, and the passions I have developed just because of this gift have become the best medicine available.”
Dr. Francis Collins, NIH director, spoke about Lee’s journey with cancer and said he chose to continue to try experimental treatments at even if he knew they would not save his own life.
“Survival was estimated maybe a year, but Andrew and his family weren’t going to hide somewhere and wait for the end,” Collins said. “That’s not who the Lee’s are. They began a four-year journey that led to no less than seven experimental trials. Andrew approached all of this with a kind of unflagging cheerfulness and optimism that inspired all of us.”
Lee participated in trials at the NIH in Bethesda, and at medical centers at Georgetown and Yale, Collins said. Collins performed “Don’t Give Up On Me” by Andy Grammer, which he said Lee listened to frequently with his father in his final weeks.
Maryland First Lady Yumi Hogan presented Lee’s family with a tribute to Lee from the state.
In a prepared video, Gov. Larry Hogan, who battled cancer, said Lee was “an incredible young man, and I feel deeply honored to have gotten a chance to know him.
“I think today we want to remember Andrew, not because of the way he died, but because of the way he lived. And although we are going to miss him, I think his legacy will continue to live on not only through his wonderful family, but through all the people that he touched through his incredible life,” the governor said in his video.
The Rev. Emily Guthrie of Christ Episcopal Church of Kensington, where Lee was a member, presided over the ceremony.
Lee’s neighbor, Mark Turgeon, mentioned that an orderly at the NIH helped Lee connect to his faith during his final weeks in hospice care, and that he requested a cross so he could wear it around his neck at the time of his death.
Michel Russo, a longtime friend joked that Lee, who had a reputation for driving his dream car a bit too fast, had to hold the record for avoiding the most speeding tickets in the state of Maryland. He said that while cancer changed Lee’s life, it did not change who Lee was.
“But undebatable is the fact that Andrew was always – always – destined for a life of influence,” Russo said. “The cancer didn’t change Andrew. It simply became the vehicle he used to share himself with the world.”