Brian Kelly: Wife Paqui tougher than any player I've ever coached

South Bend, Ind. Busy moms tend to put others' needs before their own. When it comes time to schedule a mammogram, many fail to make it a priority.

Thankfully, Paqui Kelly listened to her doctor and got her baseline mammogram.

That was more than ten years ago, when she was a working mom with three very young kids, and married to an up and coming football coach named Brian Kelly.

“We met at work,” Brian says.

“I was the low man on the totem pole at Grand Valley State," Paqui remembers.

But that's not what she told Brian at the time.

"You said you were like the Assistant Director of Financial aid," he says to Paqui, "I was the head coach of Grand Valley State and I thought I should get to know the Director of Financial Aid. She gave me this title; it was a long title. Now she tells me she was low man on the totem pole. See what you learn in these interviews? She kind of misrepresented herself a little bit. It's ok. It was worth it.”

It was worth it because together these two make an indestructible team. Little did they know how their strength would be tested.

“It was really my gynecologist who said, "before you're 40, we'd like you to get a baseline mammogram,'” says Paqui Kelly. She was 37 at the time.

The mammogram picked up a questionable spot, they took a wait-and-see approach. A few months later, a lumpectomy revealed cancer.

Brian says he immediately asked himself "what's the plan?"

"I'm a football coach. What's the game plan? How are we going to attack this? And stick with the process of attacking this and don't get lost in the emotions of it. I think that's the way we were able to get through it.”

Paqui got through it, but just over four years later, there came another diagnosis. This time it was a different form of breast cancer.

“The bad news is you have cancer again; the good news is it's a different type,” Paqui remembers her psychiatrist saying. “So it's not exactly considered a reoccurrence.”

But this cancer had family ties.

“I feel like my diagnosis saved a lot of my sisters,” explains Paqui. “It made us very aware.”

Three of the six sisters in her family have the BRCA 1 gene. Two had double mastectomies, and one had it done electively.

With the help and love of family and devoted friends, Paqui made it through a second round of cancer treatment.

“She can't find her keys,” Brian says. “Other than the chemo brain, she can't find the key. She'll lose a key. We lost a key to a key to a key, some of those things.”

The couple relies a good sense of humor, positive attitude and strength.

“She's tougher than any player I’ve ever had,” says Brian. “She'd be good on the goal line. They wouldn't get in on the goal line. They wouldn't get in on the goal line. I was a defensive specialist. I didn't have much for offense because that would require finesse and I don't have finesse. No finesse. None at all.”

But together this team fights for good health, strong courage and lots of love.

Here's another bit of information that may be helpful to women facing the same diagnosis: because Paqui has the BRCA gene, she opted to have her ovaries removed, since that gene carries a high risk of ovarian cancer.

Paqui Kelly will be honored at Wednesday’s Secret Sister Society Luncheon and style show at the Century Center. Now in its 12th year, the Secret Sister Society helps provide mammograms for underserved women in our community.


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