Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 26, 2019*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 3 of 55

4 OCT. 26, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED P aqui Kelly has noth- ing to hide and feels no shame when she in- spirationally shares stories of the tragedy and triumph that led her to double mas- tectomy surgery in 2007 at only 41 years of age. As the wife of Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, Paqui Kelly un- derstands, accepts and very much embraces her place to help provide knowledge, awareness, funds and hope in this difficult fight against breast cancer, a disease that attacks one in eight women. "I don't mind talking about it, so maybe this is why God gave me this plat- form," Paqui said. "If this can happen to me, I can share a story that it can happen to anyone." Paqui's story begins in December of 2002 after a fortuitous checkup and a suggestion from a concerned doctor that might have saved her life. At only 37 years old — not ex- actly the age when many women worry about cancer prevention and detection — and as little more than a proactive precaution, Paqui took her doctor 's advice and underwent a "baseline mammogram" that re- vealed two small cysts. Told the cysts were believed to be fibrous — natural and normal — and with no history of breast cancer in her family, Paqui wasn't overly con- cerned and went about her busy life raising three young children during the holiday season. The following June, Paqui, mainly seeking piece of mind, thought it best to have these cysts removed and checked. The minimally invasive lumpec- tomy procedure was so routine that Paqui was told afterward there was a "one in a million" chance the biopsy results would be cancerous. Shortly thereafter, Paqui tragically informed her husband that she was the "one in a million." "The reality is, had I not gone in, I probably would've been a Stage 3 or a Stage 4 when they really found it because the cancer cells that grow inside me are very aggressive ones," Paqui said. Worry, uncertainty, surgery, three months of chemotherapy and two more months of radiation treatments followed. Driven by faith and family, Pa- qui finally won her battle and was deemed cancer free. Life went back to normal around January of 2004 and remained that way for about three years. Meanwhile, after 13 successful seasons and two Division II national championships while the head coach at Grand Valley State, Brian Kelly saw his Division I coaching career take root in 2004 when he became the head coach at Central Michigan. Inspired by personal experiences, it was there in Mount Pleasant, Mich., that plans were launched between Paqui and Brian to create a charitable foundation that could raise money and awareness in their local commu- nity for cancer prevention through early detection. Cruel irony followed shortly there- after when Paqui was again diagnosed with breast cancer. This particular at- tack, she explained, was unrelated to the first but more aggressive. Fearful but undeterred, Paqui be- gan another 11-month fight that in- cluded a double mastectomy, more chemotherapy and eventually breast reconstruction. And now cancer free for more than 11 years, Paqui says her personal battles only heighten her dedication to a mission and charity she helped create in 2008 called the Kelly Cares Foundation ( In its 11 years, the founda- tion has donated more than $5.4 million to support at least 200 charities and orga- nizations locally and abroad. Ronald McDonald House Charities, Memorial Chil- dren's Hospital, the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA are just few of the higher- profile organizations the foundation supports. Closer to home, the northwest wing at Saint Joseph Hospital in nearby Mishawaka, Ind., proudly wears the name The Paqui and Brian Kelly Comprehensive Breast Center. "One of the things that stands out for me is just being so actively in- volved in so many different needs here in this community. That has been something," Brian Kelly said. "I didn't know we could touch so many in such a short period of time." October is National Breast Health Awareness Month, and the same month when Paqui's first cancer diag- nosis was made, so her work this time of the year takes on special meaning, which is outlined in her "Paqui's Play- book" event schedule that extends well beyond breast cancer awareness. Childhood obesity, heart-health, general wellness and proactive pre- vention are just a few targets that Paqui, Brian and their foundation try to address. "Go get a checkup on something that you don't think is right," Paqui said. "The worst thing that can hap- pen is you're fine as opposed to wait- ing another six months or a year and it's going to show a different kind of diagnosis." It's an important message from an inspiring survivor. ✦ A Profile In Courage And A Reason To Give Back UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Brian Kelly and his wife, Paqui, a breast cancer survivor, started the Kelly Cares Foundation in 2008. Since then, the charity has donated more than $5.4 million to various causes. PHOTO BY MIKE BENNETT/LIGHTHOUSE IMAGES

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - Oct. 26, 2019*