There was a one in a million chance it was cancer. As it turned out, Paqui Kelly was one in a million.
Since first being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, Paqui Kelly has undergone chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Still, the two-time cancer survivor and her husband, University of Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, have turned their family’s journey into an opportunity to help countless other cancer patients.
In 2007, they created the Brian Kelly Family Foundation, which today is known as the Kelly Cares Foundation. The nonprofit organization’s mission includes promoting breast cancer awareness and prevention, and raising money for research. The foundation – known as “A playbook for hope” – also supports projects that foster education and community engagement.
According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide. Each year, more than 220,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die, making it the second-leading cause of death among women, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
In addition, an estimated 2,200 men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually in the United States. Mortality rates are typically higher for men.
For Paqui Kelly, sharing her story of survival is a way to help others. One particularly important message: The absence of a family history of cancer is no guarantee of immunity from the disease.
Although a family history of breast cancer puts women at higher risk, only about one in 10 patients has a family history, the National Breast Cancer Foundation reports.
Paqui Kelly had no family history of breast cancer when her first mammogram revealed two fibrous cysts in 2002. Six months later, a preventive lumpectomy brought a diagnosis of breast cancer.
“The reason I’m still living is because I was proactive,” she said on her nonprofit’s website. “It’s imperative that you realize a serious illness can impact you at any time, but it doesn’t have to defeat you if you are taking the right steps and monitoring your health.”
Beyond the support it provides for breast cancer patients and survivors, the Kelly Cares Foundation’s focus on community also allows it to make a positive impact in several other areas.
In March 2013, for example, Brian Kelly visited Breezy Point, N.Y., to meet with residents affected by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Kelly, who was named college football’s Coach of the Year in 2012, pledged Kelly Cares Foundation funds to help with rebuilding the community’s Catholic Club.
During the 2012 holiday season, the foundation donated $10,000 to provide gift cards to 100 low-income youngsters from in and around South Bend, Indiana. The children were accompanied on a shopping spree by members of the Fighting Irish football team.
“I frequently talk to our team about accountability, appreciation and achievement,” Brian Kelly said in a press release. “It’s so critical … to have appreciation for all you have.”