A 24-year-old Florida Gulf Coast University Lutgert College alumna chose to pursue a career with the American Cancer Society after her sister was diagnosed with two life-threating diseases. In November 2012, Kelly Clay’s 27-year-old sister Abbey was diagnosed with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) and aplastic anemia. Both are life-threatening diseases that affect her blood, keeping her bone marrow from producing platelets, red and white blood cells.
“The doctor said she was pretty much walking around dead,”
Clay said. Clay donated stem cells to her sister in hopes of saving her life. She was the only sibling out of five who turned out to be a match. Clay then took on the responsibility of being her sister’s full-time caregiver during her recovery. For three months, Abbey was restricted to stay within three miles of the hospital. Clay chose to stay with her sister in the Hope Lodge, a housing facility for patients that is fully funded by the American Cancer Society.
“Where my sister had to stay, it had to be clean, very sanitary, no mold or anything like that because she had no immune system,” Clay said. Although Abbey’s treatments were successful, the road to recovery will be a long one. Prior to her diagnosis, Clay explained that Abbey worked as a school teacher.
Although she is doing better, she cannot return to work until next fall when she will be less susceptible to her environment.
“At this point, Abbey even has to wear gloves grocery shopping,” Clay said.
Because of her personal experience with the American Cancer Society, Clay chose to give back to them by putting her business degree to use. A week after Abbey’s discharge this past April, Clay had an interview for the position of community coordinator at thei ACS Naples branch. Since her hire, she has been in charge of coordinating two fundraising relay walks in the area.
“I was a Chi-Omega here at FGCU and we did a lot of work with Make-A-Wish,” Clay said. I was president in 2010 and that’s where I got most of my experience with non-profit work.”
The American Cancer Society is in the process of trying to recruit volunteers between the ages of 30 and 65 to participate in a 20-year-long Cancer Prevention Study 3 (CPS-3). They are looking for a total of 300,000 people icountrywide, specifically 200 in Lee County, by the beginning of October to help them in the endeavor.
Upon signing up, the volunteer will donate a sample of blood and fill out a survey. Then very other year , for the next 20 years, that person will receive an emailed survey with an array of questions.
“They’re going to ask you if you’ve started smoking or drinking more,” Clay said. “Did you stop exercising? And then they might ask you if you have cancer. And if your initial blood draw [was healthy] but now you have cancer, they’re going to go back to your blood and review it to see what was in it that might have correlated with cancer.”
Their objective is not just to prevent cancer, but ultimately to cure it.
“My end goal would be for my children to live in a world without cancer,” Clay said. “Through fundraising we are able to fund a lot of research, and we are also able to provide places like the Hope Lodge for people.”
If you are between the ages of 30 and 65 and are interested in being a part of CPS-3 or for more information, please email [email protected] or call toll-free 1-888-604-5888.