Kelly Kennedy will be glad when the summer of 2018 is far behind her.
The CBS 17 reporter’s mother was diagnosed with cancer in May and is still going through treatment. One of Kennedy’s best friends took her own life on June 30. And two weeks ago, Kennedy found out she has invasive cervical cancer.
Kennedy, 27, will take time off from her duties at WNCN to get treatment at Sloan Kettering in New York, where she’s from.
Kennedy revealed her diagnosis in a video on her work Facebook page on Monday. She made the video to encourage people in three key ways: keep your doctor appointments, tell the people you love that you love them and go out of your way to be kind to others.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“Honestly, the response has been pretty overwhelming,” Kennedy said in a phone interview on Friday. “I was so nervous to post something that personal on social media because I never really post personal stuff, not even on my personal social media.”
Kennedy said since she posted the video, more than 50 people have messaged her to tell her that they’ve made doctor’s appointments after putting them off.
“That just made me feel amazing,” she said. “Like I did something good out of something bad that happened. And I’ve even had people reaching out saying they also lost a family member to suicide and how they related to that part of the story.
“It just seems like a lot of people are connecting with at least some part of the story. That’s why I wanted to make it, because honestly, this has been a horrible summer for me, but I know that all these things are things that so many people go through and a lot of people don’t want to talk about, and I thought I had somewhat of a platform. So why not try to use what was happening to me to help someone else.”
Bolstered by mother’s strength
Kennedy’s mother got her breast cancer diagnosis in May. She’s had two surgeries and radiation, and has a few more weeks of treatments left to go, but Kennedy said she’s doing really well.
Still, it was a blow.
“I literally couldn’t keep it together, I was hysterical,” she said. “My little brother, he’s 23, and he said to me and my mom yesterday, ‘Mom, I think you needed to get cancer first so that Kelly wouldn’t have to do it alone, and then Kelly could handle it.”
Kennedy said watching her mom go through everything has given her more strength to face what’s ahead.
“I guess just seeing how strong she was and seeing that she was OK, I think made me more OK when I found out about myself,” she said.
‘Check on your friends’
The month after Kennedy learned her mom had cancer, she was dealt another blow. Stefanie Gute, one of her best friends for almost 10 years, took her own life.
Gute was an aspiring clothing designer and artist living in New York.
“She definitely had her demons and she had some issues, but then so does everyone,” Kennedy said. “It seemed like she was going through kind of a tough time lately but never in a million years would I have ever ever thought that she would kill herself. I couldn’t believe it. I just kept saying ‘no way.’ I honestly felt like someone murdered her or something. She loved life so much. That girl was always laughing, always dancing, always joking.”
Kennedy saw Gute in New York the month before she died and they had a great time together.
“I don’t know what I could have done, but I wish I had pushed her more to get help,” Kennedy said.
In her Facebook video, Kennedy urged viewers, “Check on your friends, check on your family,” and “go out of your way to be kind ... everyone could use it.”
There were no symptoms
Three years ago when Kennedy was living in Florida she had an abnormal pap test result. They did more tests and everything looked OK, but they told her to get another pap in six months. She didn’t.
She was re-tested last month and again, there was an abnormal result. But this time, follow-up tests revealed a tumor.
She had no physical symptoms to warn her. “If I hadn’t gone to the doctor, I wouldn’t have known.”
Kennedy pleads over and over on her Facebook video: “Even if you’re young and never been sick, get pap smears regularly … Get your tests and checkups. Don’t skip your doctors appointments.”
Among the messages she has received so far from people who say they’ve made appointments, Kennedy said she’s heard from a number of young reporters from markets all over the nation who say they’ve had abnormal pap results and and didn’t go back — but now they are.
The Mayo Clinic recommends routine pap tests for women starting at age 21, as those tests are the best way to detect precancerous conditions of the cervix.
Kennedy was at Sloan Kettering recently for more tests. Those will determine exactly what her treatment will be, but she thinks she’s facing at least two surgeries.
Treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic, can sometimes involve the surgical removal of the uterus, along with the tumor, but Kennedy’s physician at Sloan Kettering is a leading fertility sparing specialist and she’s hoping her treatment will allow her to have kids one day.
“He’s going to do whatever he can to preserve my fertility,” she said. “I’ll be high risk no matter what, but even if they remove my whole cervix he says I could still have a baby with a C-section.”
The good news is that the cancer has not spread.
Kennedy’s mom is a nurse and her dad is a doctor, and they live in New York. She also has cousins and friends who work at Sloan Kettering.
Her boyfriend, Shaun Krall, is a Navy diver stationed in Norfolk, Va.
Time away from work
Kennedy isn’t sure how long she’ll be away from work at WNCN, where she has worked for about a year and a half, but says everyone at the station has been very supportive. You’ll see her on air the early part of next week and then she leaves again for New York to have an MRI and more tests at Sloan Kettering. She’s hoping treatment can start right away so that she doesn’t have to travel back and forth to the Triangle a lot, but she said she definitely plans to come back to work at CBS 17 when she can.
The timing of her leave from the station “depends on exactly what I need to do,” she said.
For now, even though she feels like her “life is on hold,” Kennedy is strengthened by the support she’s getting.
“All the positive messages and all the prayers and all the people telling me that I helped them and inspired them, it’s making me stronger,” she said.