Aaron Kelly approaches life as he would a marathon – he simply goes for it! The 30-year-old, father of three lives by his no-excuses motto, despite being entitled to take a back seat for a while, after all he is battling cancer. But resting on his laurels is not his style, which is why the star Rockhampton runner signed up to run the 2013 Gold Coast Airport Marathon six weeks after having a mastectomy.
“This race wasn’t about time or placing for me, it was all about crossing that finish line and not giving up my fight,” says Aaron. “It was about showing my kids that daddy can still do normal things.”
It wasn’t long after Aaron won his first half marathon, the CQ Physio Group Spring Classic in Rockhampton last September, when he noticed a pea-size lump under his right arm. Passing it off as a swollen sweat gland he kept training, keen to slice time off his already impressive 1:22 PB. “I didn’t think anything of it for a few weeks, but it got bigger and was becoming a nuisance with my running so I went to the doctor,” he recalls.
In late November, blood tests and a biopsy revealed Aaron had metastatic malignant melanoma. Cancer! “The worst day was down in Brisbane before Christmas when my wife Kristine and I asked the oncologist and radiologist to be upfront. We said, ‘don’t sugar coat it’, and they told us this type of secondary melanoma had a very high risk of coming back to a major organ. It could be in six months or 10 years.”
The couple left the room with a lot of uncertainty – how would they explain this to their children Jack, 8, Hannah, 5, and Pippa, 2? What would he tell his work after he’d recently taken on the deputy editor role at his hometown’s new weekender The Queensland Telegraph? And what would this mean for his running? Only one thing was certain: Aaron wasn’t going to sit around for 10 years waiting for his cancer to strike again. “I decided straight away that I would deal with my treatment and just get on with life. When, or if, it decides to come back, I’d battle it again then.”
From the time of Aaron’s diagnosis, to having surgery a week later, his tumour had doubled in size. Surgeons cut away 20 lymph nodes from under his arm and he began seven weeks of radiation treatment. “Being away from my family was the hardest part,” he recalls.
Regardless of the physical and emotional turmoil, Aaron kept working for the paper online and remarkably kept running. When his cousin Brad and one of his best mates Brendan signed up for the Brisbane Twilight Run half marathon in January he thought, “I should give it a crack as well”.
Two months later on 24 March, with his training well shy of what he’d hoped, Aaron braved the 100kph winds, horizontal rain, hail, lightning and fallen trees to finish the race in 1:35. The only sign of his ordeal was a compression garment under his Cure Cancer Australia Foundation race singlet that stopped friction building on his scared skin below. “I proved to myself I can conquer any hurdle that comes my way, no matter how big or small,” he recalls.
Little did he know another hurdle was just around the corner. A routine check less than two months later revealed Aaron had another tumour, this one under his right nipple. “They didn’t muck around and took me in for a full mastectomy the next day,” he recalls. Thankfully the tumour was benign but it was only a matter of time before it could have been a different prognosis. With more scars to heal, the recovery cost him 10 kilos and stack of energy. But again the dream of running – now, his first full marathon – motivated him to dig deep.
With only four weeks left to train for the 42.2K haul, Aaron started logging three runs a week. He set a goal race time of four hours and had his children’s names tattooed on his arm for inspiration.
“Just getting to the start line on 7 July was a thrill,” he says. “After a really tough final 10K, when I saw Krissy and the kids cheering me on I ran across the finish line like a gazelle!” His time: 3:09:06!
With one in two Australian men expected to be diagnosed with cancer by 85, Aaron is determined to spread a message of awareness through running. His next challenge will be to defend his title at the CQ Physio Group Spring Classic this month. And with determination like his – anything is possible!