It wasn’t my plan to dedicate my life to solving the issue of the financial crisis caused by cancer. I didn’t even know it was an issue. This month, 13 years ago, I lost a very dear friend who has continued to inspire and give me strength and courage as we continue to fight for our families battling cancer.
It took a few heartbreaking stories from my dear college friend Pat Kelly (PK) before I truly started to see a glimpse of what families were going through. At the time, he was going through difficult brain cancer treatment but was more concerned about the families around him who had a child with cancer. He would call me and I’d immediately ask how he was doing, but he’d annoyingly push that question aside to tell me about a single mom he’d met on the front curb of the hospital whose 2-year-old was also battling brain cancer and whose 4-year-old was stranded at day care because she didn’t have enough cab money to go pick him up.
But, honestly, even those stories didn’t make me really understand the issue; I was too focused on and worried about my friend. I just wanted to know how he was doing. I felt sorry for those in the stories he shared, but my heart and mind were on Pat.
Then I got the call that I needed to come see PK in the hospital because it was time to say our Good-Byes. I walked into his hospital room, saw a man lying in a bed and quickly turned on my heels to leave because clearly I was in the wrong room. The man in that bed was rail thin, gaunt, and just had a few long whispers of hair on his head. My friend Pat was larger than life! He played in the NFL, crushed it on Wall Street in his second career, and his 6’7” fit frame and verbose personality captivated a room the minute he walked in. There was no way, the man in that bed was Pat Kelly; it just couldn’t be.
But it was.
After I double checked the name on the door, I took a deep breathe and walked back into the room determined to be a breathe of fresh air, a bright light in a dark reality, and a friend when my friend needed it most. Minutes later the room was full of old friends from Syracuse University, where we had all met. Actually, there were only 6 of us, but when 5 out of the 6 are former Syracuse University and NFL players, the room fills up quickly. We made PK laugh; he still made us laugh even though his main form of communication was hand gestures and facial expressions because he was too weak to talk.
My moment came when I sat next to his bed, grabbed his hand, and held on. I looked him in the eyes, he looked back at mine, and we said nothing for a while. Then, he spoke. In a whisper he said, “Carla, promise me you will help these families with cancer who don’t have money.”
All the stories he had told me flooded my memory and I knew exactly what he was talking about. I knew what I had to do, I had no idea how I was going to do it, but at that moment, I knew my purpose.
So, I made that promise to Pat. He passed away a few weeks later and left a huge hole in many of our hearts. But, because of Pat Kelly’s inspiration, hundreds of thousands of families fighting cancer will receive the financial prescription they need to increase their chances of getting on the other side of cancer. We are going to change the way this country handles the financial crisis of cancer and I’m doing so in Pat Kelly’s name.
Thank you, Pat Kelly.