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Deb Kelly Medical Support Fund

$38,431 of $60,000 goal

Raised by 375 people in 23 months
Created September 25, 2017
Dear friends,

Try to imagine: You’re 46 years old, two sons (Bryce, 14, and David, 12), a single parent household that requires two jobs to make ends meet, and being diagnosed with cancer twice in 10 months. Stage 4 is a terrifying diagnosis….

The directors of the Marketing and Communications team at Cornell University have created this GoFundMe campaign on behalf of our colleague and friend Deb Stayer Kelly.

Deb has worked with us for four years, originally in the Marketing Department at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. Through her various roles, she’s been a critical part of marketing support for all schools within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. She’s a high-performer that sees every project through to the best of her ability. She’s a loyal Cornellian graduating from the Employee Degree Program in 2000 and serving the University for a total of 13 years.

She’s also a wonderful, giving mother of two active teenage boys. She’s been struggling to provide for her sons and often works two jobs just to keep the household bills under control.

In December 2016, Deb was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer requiring a colon re-sectioning. She was also diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome, a genetic form of cancer for which there is no cure. There is an 80% chance Deb will develop a secondary cancer.

Pathology revealed that the cancer had spread to a lymph node requiring two forms of aggressive chemo during winter/spring 2017. The treatments created several side effects including severe neuropathy in her hands, feet, and throat. Oncologists made the decision to discontinue chemo after six treatments. Despite the toll these treatments took on Deb’s body, we were happy to see her return to our team as her normal self.

Deb experienced ongoing pain that went undiagnosed by physicians for almost four months. Four days after her September birthday, an MRI revealed that the colon cancer metastasized in a lymph node located in her pelvis resulting in a large mass resting on a bundle of nerves. To complete surgery at this point could possibly result in paralysis. Deb is now Stage 4 and facing another aggressive treatment that includes chemo and radiation five days a week for five weeks with the goal of shrinking the mass to allow for surgery.

When asked what her plan of action was, she responded that she’ll need to drive to the treatment center (approximately an hour and a half each way) daily. We said that was unacceptable, since she’d be too fatigued from treatments to safely drive.

As you can see, Deb’s optimistic, which is great. However, we feel daily travel will be too much for her. For that reason, and many more, we are creating this page, despite her best efforts to keep this information private and manage herself.

We’d like to raise enough money to pay for a modest room near her treatment center where she can rest from Monday to Friday for five weeks. Additional funds raised will be used to manage fuel oil bills, gasoline and vehicle maintenance, furnace repairs, meals for the boys, healthcare deductibles, and everyday expenses.
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August 21, 2019

Tomorrow is Keytruda #26 after six IV chemo treatments, five weeks of oral chemo, 25 radiation treatments, and an unknown number of surgeries. But, I AM STILL HERE…STILL FIGHTING. The past six months brought about Bryce’s 16th birthday and a driver’s permit, David’s 14th birthday, first girlfriends for both boys, Honor Society Induction, and another successful season of sports (despite David’s third severe concussion and a separated shoulder). Both boys worked this summer, helping to build their skills and learning what the real world is about.

As summer comes to a close it offers an opportunity to reflect on the many memories we’ve made. As Sandra mentioned earlier this summer, we were blessed to travel to Kure Beach, NC, through the generosity of others…strangers and those disguised as guardian angels. It is impossible to articulate all the wonderful aspects of our journey but this article does a beautiful job:

https://www.ithacajournal.com/story/news/local/2019/08/21/cornell-employee-inoperable-cancer-gifted-beach-trip/1880765001/

Our family is overwhelmed at the love and support shown by so many that have their own lives and own challenges. I cannot thank the Blue Ribbon Run and its members enough, along with all our new friends/family in NC. Beyond our journey, BRR put me in contact with a leading oncologist at UNC Lineberger at Chapel Hill who spent time investigating my medical history and best steps moving forward. I couldn’t ask for more.

My 30th high school reunion was held in July and it was a joy seeing so many familiar faces that generate fond memories when life was “simple.” It is remarkable how 30 years didn’t change the love we have for one another.

Tomorrow a team will be completing the siding, fascia, and soffit on our home in preparation for winter in an attempt to avoid massive, unmanageable fuel bills. And, new tires are going on the Volvo tomorrow morning.

Our friends, family, and colleagues continue to be our pillars as well as all of you. Thank you so much for helping us in our time of need.
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Hi everyone,
Deb has been fighting the good fight and promises us an update soon.
In the meantime, I thought you'd like to see this video. Deb is hoping to spend some time with her boys at the beach and sent an ad through Craigslist for a discounted rate at some beach rental properties down south. Wouldn't you know that a reporter from that area saw the ad and contacted her for a feature story on the local news?! As a result, Deb has received hundreds of email responses! There are good people everywhere.
Next week, the same reporter plans on doing a follow-up story with Deb and her boys. Here's a link to the story:
https://www.wect.com/2019/06/26/vacation-lifetime-single-mom-with-inoperable-cancer-searches-vacation-rental-here-beach/
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Hi everyone,
Thank you for your unending support. It's truly appreciated. Deb has been back to work for the past few months and it's been wonderful seeing her every day again. But I honestly don't know how she's doing it. I know there are days when she's feeling really sick and doesn't tell anyone. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.
Here's her latest update:
January 29, 2019
"I’m sorry for not providing an update sooner. Placing words on paper forces me to acknowledge the reality in which I live; the new normal for me and my family. A great deal has happened since my last update in August – both good and bad. Let’s start with a health update. After declining the Total Pelvic Exenteration/Evisceration Surgery, I placed my faith in Keytruda. The oncologist originally said that I would be on Keytruda for a year. Following an additional PET scan in September, tests showed that the masses continue to shrink with no new masses present. However, it was deemed necessary to continue at least another year on Keytruda including infusions via my port every three weeks in Geneva. My port continues to be temperamental resulting in cathflo injections to try and clear the blockage. When that doesn’t work, I have a surgical procedure that allows doctors to access my port via my femoral artery to strip the base of the port.

This journey began on December 1, 2016. That’s 17 Keytruda treatments, six IV chemo treatments, five weeks of oral chemo, 25 radiation treatments, and an unknown number of surgeries. I am exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. Keytruda is keeping me alive until a cure can be found.

The only financial source keeping me afloat is the GoFundMe. I truly don’t know what I would do without the generosity of everyone that has donated. On October 22, I returned to work full-time at Cornell. I could no longer withstand the constant reduction in pay by Cigna. After only 10 days of trying to prove myself to a new supervisor and reassuring those around me that I was 100%, I suffered a GI bleed that landed me in the hospital for three days. I was more upset that the boys witnessed hours of me writhing in pain on the bathroom floor before I finally acknowledged I needed help. My mom tried to comfort me and helped talk me through the pain. The boys left for school without saying goodbye or even checking on me. When I asked Bryce later why he didn’t check on me, he said, “Mommy, I couldn’t see you like that.” What an honest response. My heart breaks for them. My greatest fear was that the bleed was caused by Keytruda as it is unable to delineate between good or bad cells. We have yet to determine the cause. Therefore, an endoscopy is scheduled for January 31. This is also an important part of preventative care for Lynch Syndrome since esophageal and stomach cancer are quite common.

There has also been good days and blessings along the way. I am thankful to be surrounded by loving and caring people that have given freely of their finances, time, and energy to help me. I tend to steer away from thanking specific people because I know I’ll miss someone. However, I am fortunate to have Ron and Amy Hurd (and their son, Silas) who have worked tirelessly on our house trying to make it sellable when the time comes. We made awesome progress this year. Gutters, soffit, fascia, a tad more siding, and outdoor lights are still required. Many contractors donated their services to finish the roof and install new window operating arms.

David is now 13 years old and has a deep love for the outdoors including fishing and hunting. Since he is unable to hunt without an adult with a hunting license, I completed the Hunter’s Safety Course in January. He competed in a youth turkey hunt that netted a 23 lb. turkey and a youth pheasant hunt. I was there, in the field, with camera in-hand, to capture every moment. I want that young man to know how much he is loved. When he’s older, David will look back on those moments when his mom was the only mom that insisted on tramping through the woods with him even though he didn’t want me to because it was embarrassing. I hope they are treasured memories for him.

Bryce is doing exceptionally well in school, completing college credits, playing multiple sports, and soon celebrating his 16th birthday on February 18. Another milestone that I will get to enjoy. He surrounds himself with a wonderful network of young men that have been part of his life since he was little.

There is one very special angel that has yet to reveal themselves. Since March 2017, I have received anonymous cards in the mail that include uplifting biblical quotes, words of encouragement, and $50. These mailings have continued approximately every two/three weeks for the past two years. I saved every envelope, every card, and every $50. I hope that person knows how much their kindness means to me. I will never be able to thank them enough.

Family, friends, and colleagues continue to go to the ends of the earth to care for me, make memories, check items off the Bucket List, and remind me that each day is a new beginning. The past year I lost three very special people – Jenn Robords, a fellow boxer lover that was part of my life for almost three decades, suffered surgical complications and passed at the age of 66. Douglas Arnold, a sweet soul that I’ve known since high school, suffered surgical complications on July 4 and passed at the age of 47. Cindy Thomason, a fellow warrior diagnosed a few months before me, lost her battle with cancer the day before her 59th birthday. Cancer brought us together but it will not tear us apart.

There are no words to describe how dire our financial situation is. The boys accepted the fact that there wouldn’t be a Christmas in 2018 until a few angels made sure they did. Colleagues/friends saw me struggling with appropriate outdoor attire and went out of their way to purchase long coats, gloves, and gift cards for additional supplies. It’s difficult for a person that has always worked two jobs and taken great pride in providing for myself and my family to acknowledge I need help. But, I can’t do it alone.

With the New Year, brings a new medical deductible, school taxes, and so much more. The recent cold spell has resulted in our fuel oil escalating from $170 a month to more than $600 despite the thermostat being set at a balmy 60/62 degrees. We are now afraid of frozen/ruptured pipes while space heaters drive up the electrical bill. I’m applying for grants and emergency funds but I am often ineligible. I look around and think, “What can I sell?” There’s not much left. I even stopped buying food for the birds I loved watching at the feeder. We lost our 16 year old kitty, MeeMee, to cancer but decided to foster kittens for the Schuyler County Humane Society instead of adopting another kitty. We’re trying to make the most of everything.

Many thanks to everyone for the many different ways you’ve helped us over the past two years. Love,
Deb, Bryce, and David"
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Hi everyone. Thank you for your generosity thus far. Here's an update from Deb. Please consider helping.
Much appreciated,
Sandra

August 30, 2018
The past few months have taught me that life with cancer is often an emotional rollercoaster filled with peaks and valleys. After receiving a favorable PET scan in April, the Tumor Board approved me for surgery. I was SO excited!! I want nothing more than this disease to be removed from my body.

My parents traveled from TN to attend my appointment with the colorectal surgeon on June 5. I was excited, nervous…a full range of emotions. As soon as the surgeon walked in, I knew this was not going to be a typical appointment. She explained that the Tumor Board approved a Total Pelvic Exenteration/Evisceration Surgery if scans in September showed consistent or improved results with the Keytruda. However, we soon learned surgery details that left me broken and loss. This is a radical surgery that removes everything in your pelvis - lymph nodes, reproductive organs, rectum, anus, portions of bowel, and possibly urethra and bladder. I will have a stoma, colostomy, and possibly catheter. Surgery lasts 10-13 hours with a handful of surgeons, a three week hospital stay if all goes well, high risk of bleeding out as well as infection, possible physical therapy, and a recovery period of six months to two years.

I had a major decision to make - place my faith in Keytruda, a relatively new drug for colon cancer, or a radical surgery that will change my life forever. We had a lengthy conversation with the surgeon to understand why everything in my pelvis had to be removed versus removing only the mass. She explained that they need to remove everything in my pelvis so the cancer had nothing to return to. However, there is no guarantee that the cancer would not metastasize in other organs prone to Lynch Syndrome (liver, kidney, brain, etc.).

Without a guarantee that this journey would be over following surgery, the decision became quantity versus quality. I researched the surgery and spoke with oncologists, family members, and fellow cancer patients. I made the decision to not pursue surgery. I don’t want to be a burden to my sons or family. Living a quality life after this surgery would be exceptionally challenging. I pray that I’ve made the right decision. Additional scans will be completed in September to see what the Keytruda has accomplished since April.

Meanwhile, I received a call from Cigna stating that they are reducing my pay by an additional 20%. This news is devastating. I expressed that the disability system is flawed, punishing those with illnesses while others abuse the system. I didn’t choose this disease. It chose me. Why am I being punished by reducing my ability to provide for my family and increasing stress levels at a vulnerable time?

The GoFundMe campaign has been extremely helpful but the funds won’t last forever. If only I could pay off the mortgage…it would be a huge relief but I know that isn’t feasible. Meanwhile, Cornell and my colleagues continue to be outstanding, helping in any way possible. I will forever be indebted to this remarkable institution.

Efforts to finish renovations on the house, in the most economically method possible, continue through the incredible assistance of friends that are graciously donating their time and skills. My goal is for the house to be sellable immediately upon my passing so that my family won’t have to deal with unfinished projects or struggle to pay estate expenses. If I am unable to address Cigna’s additional reduction in pay, it leaves me with only one option - to return to work full-time while enduring treatment and dealing with corresponding side effects.

Thank you to everyone that has walked this journey with me and supported me along the way. It seems we’re not done yet.
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$38,431 of $60,000 goal

Raised by 375 people in 23 months
Created September 25, 2017
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