Nobody expected Brian Kelly to leave Notre Dame, not even Brian Kelly himself. In mid-November, a reporter asked Brian whether he would abandon a team he’d led for the past decade, and he said: “No.” However, Kelly added that an extraordinary amount of money – $250 million in particular – would make him consider a move. 

Fast forward one week, news about Brian’s move to LSU broke. The figure quoted was around $100 million in salary and benefits in ten years. It’s not quite the $250 million that he mentioned, but a handsome amount nonetheless. 

Kelly also stated that his wife, Paqui Kelly, would influence his decision to stay or leave. “I’d have to run it by her,” he said. It seems like Brian Kelly’s wife, Paqui Kelly, agreed with his decision to join LSU.

Before Paqui’s first breast cancer diagnosis, she didn’t know that her family had a history with cancer

Paqui never expected to receive a breast cancer diagnosis when a mammogram revealed a cyst in her breast. As far as she knew, her family had no history of cancer. Furthermore, she was the healthiest of her siblings: she never drank or smoked and exercised regularly. 

“Of all the people it should have happened to, it shouldn’t have happened to me,” she told Strong of Heart. Doctors asked Paqui to monitor the lump and report back in six months. 

Six months later, Paqui reported that the cyst had grown. Due to the lack of cancer history in Paqui’s family, doctors still considered the lump non-cancerous. However, tests revealed the opposite result. 

Per The New York Times, Paqui told Brian: “You know how you’re always saying I’m one in a million? Well remember what the doctor said? I’m the one.”

Paqui and her family – her husband, Brian, and children, Patrick, Grace, and Kenzel – braced for a battle with cancer with a 96% chance of success. The family hosted a hair-cutting party and organized a schedule to help Paqui raise the kids. “We dealt with it like a game plan,” Paqui said. 

Paqui, who has Spanish roots from her mom’s side, expected a recovery without remission. However, her sister’s breast cancer diagnosis changed expectations. Research revealed that some relatives on her father’s side died due to cancer. 

With cancer in her genes, the chance of recurrence rose from 5% to 96%. Sure enough, Paqui’s cancer returned. “You said we weren’t going to have to do this again,” Paqui’s daughter, Grace, lamented. “You said that we were done with cancer.”

This time Paqui opted for a double mastectomy, as did her sisters Eli and Monie. “How awesome was it for us to be able to have each other?” Monie said. 

Brian Kelly marveled at her wife’s positivity throughout her two cancer battles: “Even while she was battling through it, she was interacting with the kids and making fun of not having hair. She didn’t have to be in the room alone feeling sorry for herself.”

The Kelly Cares Foundation has donated over $5 million in the battle against cancer

Brian Kelly

Paqui and Brian created the Brian Kelly Family Foundation several months before her second cancer diagnosis. The family put the foundation on hold as she battled cancer. 

After she recovered and Brian accepted a coaching job at Notre Dame, Paqui focused on the foundation. She renamed it to the Kelly Cares Foundation and set about collecting funding for the fight against cancer. 

Paqui’s focus is the early detection of cancer. She told The New York Times that early detection helped her beat cancer:

“For me, personally, my hope is to tell a story to hopefully help people. The message is be proactive in your health. If I had waited until I was 40 to get my mammogram, I don’t know if I’d be sitting here. If I had ignored that, my treatment could have been way longer and not just isolated to my breast.”

Paqui writes on the foundation’s site that it has exceeded expectations: “As of January 2019, we have contributed over $5 million to causes aligned with our vision and mission of support for organizations focused on health, education and community needs.”