Jerry Kelly looked at his fist, often used for comparison to the size of a healthy kidney.
Kelly looked at his fist again, nearly the size of his wife’s tumor.
It has been more than eight months since Carol Kelly had her cancerous right kidney removed. But a glance at his hand reminded 10-time PGA Tour Champions winner Kelly how close he came to losing his beloved partner of 28 years.
And in a sense, Carol has been lucky.
Two doctors dismissed the blood in her urine as a normal urinary tract infection. When she doubled over in pain and went to the emergency room, Kelly said they were fortunate it was a hospital, not an urgent care center. Kidney stones were suspected; a CAT scan was ordered. Kelly said they knew it was bad news because of the interminable wait.
The tumor was four centimeters by six centimeters, he said.
“There’s no way her fist is bigger than four centimeters by six centimeters,” Kelly said Saturday at Firestone Country Club. “And it was contained. Pretty amazing.”
Since her diagnosis, the Kellys take amazing any way they can get it. As they stepped out of the car Sunday for the final round of the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, Carol gave Jerry the words to win by.
He used her motivation to capture his second Senior Players title in three years, his final round 68 and 269 total two strokes better than defending champion and close friend Steve Stricker. The victory earned Kelly $450,000 and a trip to the 2023 Players Championship, one of the PGA Tour’s signature events.
“She said, ‘It doesn’t matter what happens, I want to see the attitude up the entire time,’” Kelly said Sunday after the trophy ceremony. “The lid was on the hole for a long time and I was rolling my eyes. But I was doing it with a smile on my face like I used to a little bit more. That was keeping me in a positive frame of mind knowing that it would come to me because of that. That was all her with that attitude.”
With Carol diagnosed with cancer for the second time — the first was melanoma when she was pregnant with son Cooper in 1998 — Kelly is cherishing the fact that Carol has been traveling with him since November.
“Just the fact that she’s here this week … It may not be our normal restaurant-laden place or the hotel that is our favorite on tour, but the golf course is that special,” Kelly said. “She’s like, ‘You know what, I want to be there for you, I love that golf course, it’s really cool just to be out there.’ I mean, this is a different world once you step inside these gates. I love it that she can appreciate that and that she wanted to come here.”
She nearly didn’t make it. Carol, 57, is undergoing immunotherapy treatments of Keytruda every three weeks, flying from their home in Madison, Wisconsin, to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, where they have another house.
There are side effects. Carol said sometimes she feels run down for a couple days after treatment, a couple times it’s stayed with her until she was about to return to Phoenix.
“I was kind of dragging coming into this week and I was going to pass, just to try to recover again. He kind of gave me the sad eyes, so I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll go,’” Carol said Sunday morning. “This tournament, I love to walk this golf course.”
The bear hug Kelly gave her after he left the 18th green showed how glad he was that they shared the victory together.
“She’s been troopering it out,” he said.
With their positive attitude, luck has shined on Carol Kelly more than once of late.
Initially she was told she was not a good candidate for immunotherapy, which she called “the future of cancer treatment.” Eventually that was approved due to what she called a “reclassification.”
The every-three-week routine began in January, and Kelly has only missed one treatment, that when he had early-week commitments at his hometown tournament, the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison on June 10-12.
“I’m only going to miss one more, she’s got to have it done when I go to the British Senior,” Kelly said of the Senior Open Championship at Gleneagles July 21-24. “So I’ll miss two out of that year of treatment and I’m not happy about missing two of them.”
After capturing his second senior major, Kelly isn’t considering skipping the trip overseas.
“She would want me to go do my job. She knows how important the Senior Open Championship is to me, I love going over there,” Kelly said. “I’d love to have her with me, but she had to do it on those dates and we didn’t want to mess with that.”
Carol knows how much accompanying her to treatment means to her husband, and said his devotion is not out of character for him.
“There’s been one time he wasn’t able to be there, and I took a picture of his empty chair. I know he’s there with me in thought,” she said. “That’s who Jerry really is. I don’t think he lets people see that side of him very often. He gives me a lot of strength.”
She just went through her six-month scans and said, “I’m on a really good track. Things are looking real good right now.”
Kelly and Stricker families support each other during health crises
The Kelly and Stricker families are close as both live in Madison. Recovering from his own serious health crisis, Steve Stricker was glad to hear about Carol’s recent scans.
“She’s gotten some good news of late, so things are looking better. But still, with that you just cross your fingers with cancer, right?” Stricker said Sunday. “You just don’t know when it’s going to come back, you hope and pray that it won’t.
“To see her out here and them having a good time with each other, it kind of puts things in perspective really quickly. We’re out there battling for a golf tournament, but it’s not really what they were going through in life.”
It’s possible the kidney cancer was linked to her melanoma, but the Kellys will never know.
“They’ve just looked at everything and nothing makes sense. I’m just one of the unlucky ones,” Carol said. “But I’m lucky, too. It was not looking good originally. It sounds corny, but just to be alive it feels pretty good because I wasn’t feeling that way early on that I was going to be around.”
Kelly remembered when Carol was pregnant and said it took some coaxing for her to address the melanoma.
“We made her go and get it out because if Coop would have been born, she never would have given a thought about herself,” Kelly said. “It would have been all him and she never would have got it checked and she wouldn’t be here already.
“There’s incredible positives.”
Golfer Jerry Kelly marvels at the advancements in cancer treatment
Kelly marvels at the immunotherapy “targeting system” that is helping her body attack renal cell carcinoma.
“The way I was described it, cancer cells hide from the body, so we don’t kill it. Certain immunotherapies plant a cancer flag for that type of cancer,” Kelly said Saturday. “So the body comes over and says, ‘That’s a cancer cell, I’m going to kill it.’
“Gene therapy, you find different gene mutations are susceptible to certain cancers. It’s amazing what they’re doing through the drugs, through the genes, the human genome, breaking that trail. It’s growing leaps and bounds.”
Carol has been back walking with her husband since the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix on November 11-14. Not that far removed from late October surgery, she could only last nine holes.
“I think it’s good for her to keep the blood going and keep that medicine actually circulating through her blood. It just wears her out,” Kelly said.
“I think I’ve been doing really well as far as bouncing back,” Carol said. “My energy is not great. But I know I can walk 18 holes, so I’m going to try it. I pay for it sometimes; it just depends on the day.
“Fresh air is good.”
Jerry Kelly credits his wife, Carol, for motivating him to two victories in 2022
Kelly, 55, said Carol’s presence provided huge motivation as he won the Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 5.
“It’s the whole reason I won at Des Moines,” he said Saturday. “That just brings life into perspective so golf can be a little easier, and it really has been easier. Eased up on myself just because we’re having so much fun when we come out that we’ve got to realize that’s what life’s about.
“The work can obviously pile on you, especially in this sport, in any job I would say. We’re hard on ourselves out here, but to have a partner like Carol, we’re just loving it.”
He felt the same way Sunday.
“You know I get frustrated pretty much more than just about anybody. When you guys used to say Tiger [Woods] hates making bogeys more than anybody, I beg to differ. He just never made them,” Kelly said of the 18-time major winner and eight-time champion at Firestone. “But, yeah, perspective is a beautiful thing if you can get it.”
Kelly had no doubt Carol would eventually rejoin him.
“I knew she’d always come back out,” he said Saturday. “She’s always been there and she’s there. All I can do is be there for her, be strong for her, and hopefully play good golf for her. We just do it together, we always have.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
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