Keith's Survivor Story

Keith Kennedy is Relay For Life honorary chair, cancer survivor

By Beth Dickman, Hudson Star-Observer
Published Friday, June 15, 2007

As superstitions go, Friday the 13th is the one day not to cross a black cat or walk underneath a ladder. On Friday, April 13, 2001, Keith Kennedy’s doctor discovered a brain tumor, and he was told he would never work again.

“I fought a brain tumor awhile back,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, 42, an independent information technology consultant and longtime Hudson resident, defied his odds and has resumed working. Though he is now plagued by epilepsy, a common side effect of surviving such conditions, he has regained the majority of his functioning abilities, he said.

“I was told that I was pretty lucky,” Kennedy said.

The tumor Kennedy contracted was difficult to classify, said Keri Kennedy, Keith’s wife of almost 12 years. It was an astrocytic tumor, but any further classification was not determined.

An astrocytic tumor is a lump that grows on the cells that support and protect the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, according to the Mayo Clinic Web site.

Keri said they went to five oncologists to determine the exact classification, but came up with no precise conclusion.

“The type that it is most like is a brain tumor that comes back,” Keith said. “So, they’re keeping a close eye on it.”

Two months after the tumor was discovered, Keith had surgery to remove as much of it as possible at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and began the long journey to recovery.

“They removed a pretty sizeable part of my brain,” he said. “I spent a year at home after the surgery not functioning well at all.”

Possible treatment options for a brain tumor include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. However, for Keith’s tumor, chemotherapy was not a viable option. Surgery was the first route chosen to remove the cancer cells, but radiation is being kept as an option for the future, Keith said.

Keith is currently living cancer-free with few problems resulting from the tumor, Keri said. As of yet, there has been no sign of a relapse.

Since Keith was diagnosed in 2001, the Kennedy family has been an active part of Relay For Life, a team event to fight cancer hosted by the American Cancer Society.

This year, Keith was chosen to be the honorary chairperson for the Hudson-area event, taking place June 22-23 at Rock Elementary School.

As the honorary chair, Keith not only is a part of his family’s team, but also will give a speech at the luminary ceremony and will lead the survivor’s lap during the event.

“My wife is on the committee so I know how I was elected,” Keith said. “I definitely felt honored by it [being nominated]. It’s intimidating to have to give a speech and also do this interview.”

Though Keri is on the committee for the Hudson relay, it was their daughter Keli that nominated him to be the honorary chairperson this year.

Lori DeBoer, chair of the Hudson-area Relay For Life, said both Keith and Keri have shown great dedication to the cause and to the relay.

“One of the reasons we chose him for the honorary chair position is because he really had a long journey,” DeBoer said. “He is such a firm believer in what ACS can do and has done.”

Keith, Keri and their daughter Keli will be walking in the relay for their sixth year. In 2002, the Kennedy family, along with several members of their extended family, joined the hospital’s team in order to be a part of the event. In 2003, Keri created “Keith’s Brain Trust,” a team comprised of Keith, Keri, Keli, a couple of family friends and several family members, primarily from Keri’s side since they are located in the area.

“For a small family team, it has definitely had some amazing years,” Keith said. “The team has won a lot of awards for the event over the years.”

Ever since Hudson has gone online for fundraising and organizing the teams, “Keith’s Brain Trust” has done well raising money, Keri said.

“The first year we were online, our team was on top,” she said. “Over time we’ve won gold and silver and platinum. We’ve done pretty well fundraising.”

Keri was the top individual online fundraiser in 2005 and the team was the top online fundraiser in 2005 for all of Wisconsin. That was the year the team reached platinum status bringing in over $11,000. In 2006, Keith’s Brain Trust reached gold status, raising over $5,000; in 2004 they were a silver team raising just shy of $5,000, Keri said.

This year’s Relay For Life team is online again fundraising and encouraging people to get involved. Keri is one of the main contacts for the Hudson-area Relay For Life event.

“Keri does a lot for Relay For life,” DeBoer said. “She takes on the online and the registration. She’s also in charge of the newsletter. Without her help with registration, we wouldn’t have an event.”

Keri is already planning next year’s event by training in her replacement, someone to fill in with registration and the online work, DeBoer said. All of the work is done voluntarily.

“She’s very dedicated,” DeBoer said. “I can only imagine that it’s like a part-time job; she dedicates so much time.”

In the past, Keith’s Brain Trust has done well fundraising and also has had a full team of 15 people with extras that go to the event to support and help out in any way possible.

At press time, the team for next week’s event has 12 of the 15 available slots filled and has raised approximately $1,500.

Keri said that they have been focusing on getting the community involved and creating awareness of Relay For Life. The theme this year is “Wizard of Oz,” so they’ve been placing broomsticks and witches hats in neighborhoods as reminders.

“Our goal this year, instead of focusing so much on the monetary part of fundraising is to have fun and promote the event as a whole,” Keri said. “We really want to get out into the community and get as many people interested as possible.”

For more information about Relay for Life, visit www.relayforlife.org. For information about the Hudson event, call Lori DeBoer at (715) 386-2300, ext. 7806, or visit www.acsevents.org/relay/wi/hudson.

“This year we want to be the team that has as much fun as possible,” Keri said.

Relay for Life is for people of all ages who are interested in joining the fight against cancer. Keith’s Brain Trust is encouraging everyone to participate.

Keith said, “I am a cancer survivor.”

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Bluegrass Mama said...

Finally catching up here, and just saw this article. My husband's spinal tumor was an astrocyoma--I hadn't realized that Keith's was, too. Great article!

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