– Irish head coach Brian Kelly at Thursday's Football 101 fundraiser.
When Paqui Kelly was first diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2003, her children were 6, 3, and 2 years old, respectively.
Well-aware of the gravity of the situation, Paqui and her husband Brian – entering what would be his final season as head football coach at Grand Valley State – approached the diagnosis as they do most aspects of their life together: with a healthy dose of humor.
"I remember when the test came back the first time; they had done a lumpectomy and the test to see if it's cancerous (and told us): ‘Don't worry, 999,999 out of a million come back fine," Paqui Kelly offered in reflection.
"So Brian kept calling and I hadn't heard yet, and one day he called and said ‘Did you hear from the doctor?' and I said: "Well, honey, you know I'm one in a million right? Just not the one you want me to be…"
It was the first of two cancer diagnoses for the Kelly family - the second occurrence in 2007.
"I took it lighthearted but that's me personally and how I've dealt with it and how we've dealt with it," Paqui said of her family's recurring battle with breast cancer. "We've done things different. I had my kids shave my head both times to let them feel like it wasn't the sickness that was doing it. The medicine was doing it.
"You try to figure how your family will deal with it best."
When it came time to cope with the immediate future, her husband wisely followed his wife's lead.
"I drew a lot of that inspiration off the first (occurrence) and the way my wife handled it with a young family, so it was easy for me because I saw how strong she was and I needed to be that way," Brian Kelly said. "I think the first time was a little bit more difficult because it shook me."
Paqui knows her case is unique, and that not all cancer survivors were as fortunate during their respective battles.
"For me I tried to keep things as normal as they could be. The only thing that changed for me was that I didn't work. My kids handled it pretty well and we had a good core group of people (helping)…we had to turn away help, and that isn't the truth for everybody," she noted.
"That's one of the reasons we feel the need to promote the Kelly Cares Foundation – we can help people a little that may not have be as fortunate as us."
The Kelly's personal experience served as an impetus for Thursday night's Football 101 event, but the couple's altruism extends beyond breast cancer research.
"Our focus with the Kelly Cares Foundation has a three-pronged approach," Paqui explained. "One is Education; another, Community – to reach out within the community and (third) Women's Health: we're not keeping it specific to breast cancer because there are other women's issues as well.
"Obviously as a two-time survivor we wanted to make sure we could help people, even if they weren't breast cancer survivors, but through another avenue.
"The funds generated to this event will go specifically to educating women on women's health issues."
Coach Kelly noted the significance of the Football 101 event on Notre Dame's campus.
"You're moved by different events in your life," he offered. "And one of the things about my wife and I (is) we met on a college campus. I was the head coach at Grand Valley State and she was the head of financial aid – I thought she'd be a good person to know," he quipped.
"It's always been about campus and community, and then obviously her personal affliction with cancer and breast cancer and beating that. We said ‘these are two of the arms that we have to have in our Foundation' with the third being, whatever community we're in, we want to be supportive (of it), because that's where our family's going to be raised."
With 300 women signing up in what was essentially one week's notice; Football 101 is guaranteed to make an encore appearance in South Bend next summer.
"For us, this couldn't have been an easier fit…actually seeing the kind of event and support we received from our community; with everybody pitching in and we've only been here six months, it just tells you a little bit about how special South Bend is," Kelly noted.
"Cleary what we want to be able to do is provide something special. And being here at the Stadium, being here at Notre Dame, it doesn't get any better," he stated before adding:
"Now there's a selfish reason too, because we want all of the ladies that are here to be able to be experts on Monday like everybody else…especially you guys. So we've added more experts to the mix; it should be great fun."