Lexington designer Kellee Edwards has died at 45
Kellee Edwards, 45, died in November in Lexington, surrounded by family and friends, after a nearly two year battle with lung cancer.
Kellee was an incredibly hard worker who could meet a creative deadline like a pro, but who also knew how to appreciate life’s simpler pleasures, like front porch time with her family, and a good late night deadline meal with friends. (When her daughter Kate was born, she took her MacBook to the hospital and worked in between contractions.)
As a popular local freelance designer, Kellee’s many clients included the J. Peterman Company and the Hamburg Journal, where she built nearly a decade’s worth of award-winning ads, campaigns, and issues.
Jessica Beall, who owns Joli in Hamburg, writes, “Kellee was so special to so many people. She was a huge part of marketing for Joli and will be greatly missed. We shared many conversations together about our children and life. She will always hold a special place in my heart!”
A Disney store employee wrote, “For one hour, I stood next to her in the Disney store and gave her donated gift cards and toys for Kate and tips on how to do Disney World best. In that hour, my life was changed. It was honestly one of the happiest moments of my life. There she was, in her wig, with cancer, smiling. And there I was with her, smiling too. Smiling because this light force had come into my life in a way I had never expected. I knew her for one hour. And it was truly magical.”
Kellee was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in February 2016. It’s a rare type of inoperable cancer that is known for its aggressive nature. She had chemotherapy, lung radiation, brain radiation, and immunotherapy. The cancer briefly went into remission at Christmas 2016, but in March 2017, scans showed it was back in the lung and had spread to the liver. Doctors graded her at Stage 4 and told her a cure was no longer an option.
On the GoFundMe page her friends created to help with medical expenses, she wrote, “We’re all just over here living the best and happiest lives we can, for however long we have together. It’s not all pure joy like my saturated Facebook page tells. Sometimes living and dying is hard, but most of the time and on most days, we laugh.”
She spent the remaining months of the summer and fall trying new treatments, while creating what would have to be a lifetime of memories with her daughter Kate and husband John. Those included simple pleasures — like a September visit to Zappo’s or a June visit to a local greenhouse for plants — and more elaborate ones, like meeting Gloria Steinem, and a week at Disney World in the spring.
Kellee wrote at the time,
“Kate calls it cancer camp. It’s Camp Kesem for kids whose parents have cancer. After 10,021 hugs and 27 pep talks (some to Kate, some to me), she’s off, and I’m really gonna miss her.
We’ve practiced taking showers and getting the shampoo rinsed out of her hair for three weeks now, and I’ve been assured someone will help her comb it. I bought two of everything on the camp list (maybe three bug sprays if you count the one that rolls on). I bought her all new underwear and socks, and I have enough matching shorts and T-shirts for three weeks.
I let her pick a twin comforter and sheets to be known as ‘camp bedding.’ It’s minty and navy, very Kate. No pink for miles; sequins approved.
“We have a shower organizer, product containers, new toothbrushes (in case one gets lost) and fresh strawberry kids’ toothpaste from Lucky’s. We’ve pulled out all the stops. The list said she could bring a musical instrument. Kate has three: a Mexican drum, a maraca and a recorder. She was allowed to bring a disposable camera. I sent two, plus one for underwater. I sent maze books and stickers and a journal and different colored pens.
“Thank God the camp prohibits taking snacks. I don’t know how John would’ve carried the mini-fridge up that hill.
“But I offer no apologies for my overdone behavior. This could be my life’s equivalent of sending my daughter off to college, so it was a really big deal. We’ve never been away from each other for this long; we’ve barely ever been away from each other at all. I suspect she’ll come back older and wiser. I suspect this is good for both of us. She was so excited. She will be just fine. After all, it’s only a week. Me? I suspect I’ll be chained to the front porch by Wednesday to curb my compulsion to go get her.”
Kellee was deeply devoted to her family, generous with her time and resources, passionate about social justice, wise beyond her years, and a practitioner of random acts of kindness. Her laugh could light up a room.
It will surprise no one to learn Kellee knew all the words to “Eastbound and Down,” and was prone to belting it out on the occasional road trip.
She was born in Louisville and grew up in Corbin. She graduated with a B.A. in French from Stetson University in DeLand, Fla. She studied in France for a year during college.
After graduation, Kellee lived and worked in DeLand for a year before moving back to Corbin. She worked at the Times-Tribune in Corbin, and later at The Harlan Daily Enterprise and the Georgetown News-Graphic. During her career, she won more than 25 Kentucky Press Association Awards.
Later Kellee and husband John Whitlock moved to Lexington, where Kellee worked as a freelance graphic artist and photographer for several local publications and businesses.
From the time of Kellee’s cancer diagnosis in January 2016 until her death, she was determined to savor every second with her family.
Kellee is survived by her husband John Whitlock and their 7-year-old daughter Katherine “Kate” Jo Hannah Whitlock; her stepdaughter, Elizabeth Whitlock and many other members of her extended family, and countless devoted friends and co-workers.
Condolences can be left at www.croleyfh.com.
Memorial donations may be made to the GoFundMe site established to help Kellee’s family with her cancer battle www.gofundme.com/kelleeedwards.
This article also appears on page 7 of the December 2017 printed edition of the Hamburg Journal.
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