Kelli McLaughlin founded Clothes for a Cause nearly five years ago as a way of supporting charities in the community and around the world.
Now, after being diagnosed with brain cancer, the Carmel resident is doing her share to raise funds for researching the disease.
McLaughlin, 44, was originally diagnosed in September 2021 with a meningioma, a non-cancerous tumor.
“Meningioma tumors actually run in our family,” said McLaughlin, co-owner with Mandi Adams of Clothes With A Cause shops at Clay Terrace in Carmel and in downtown Indianapolis. “But it’s not what (the tumor) ended up being. My symptoms got really bad really quick with seizures, and within 30 days of the initial diagnosis, I was back in the hospital.”
She got a new diagnosis of Grade 4 glioblastoma in October and soon had brain surgery.
“They removed everything that they could see,” McLaughlin said. “They could only (remove) 98 to 99 percent because it grows almost invisibly in the lining of your brain. It’s why it’s almost impossible to treat, because you can’t see it.”
A grueling 42 consecutive days of chemotherapy and radiation followed.
“By the time I was done in mid-December, I was just a walking shell of a human because it was so hard on my body,” McLaughlin said.
She started maintenance chemotherapy in January, taking the treatment for five consecutive days followed by 23 days off. She said she will repeate the cycle through the rest of year or as long as she can tolerate it. She also wears a head piece called Optune.
“It’s the only FDA-approved device that’s not used invasively to help extend life for patients like myself,” she said. “It’s been shown to add another year or two to life expectancy. Life expectancy for tumors like mine is between 12 and 16 months upon diagnosis. We are hoping this buys me a few more years and some major breakthrough can come through on that front.”
With four children and her first grandchild due in July, McLaughlin wants to have as much time with them as possible.
“Brain cancer research is the most underfunded cancer research out there,” McLaughlin said. “Since it’s not curable, I can see people not wanting to chuck tons of money at it. But you are never going to find a cure unless you raise money for it.”
The first Kelli’s Kegs N’ Eggs 5K was held in April at Bier Brewery North in Carmel, raising more than $50,000. McLaughlin said half of the proceeds will go to glioblastoma research. The other half is going to a scholarship fund at Lake City Bank for families that have someone newly diagnosed with the disease.
“We were totally unprepared for this,” McLaughlin said. “When they cut me open, I lost 75 percent of the function on the left side of my body. I can barely walk anymore.”
McLaughlin, a 1995 Carmel High School graduate, said the first months were almost impossibly hard on the family.
“We’re trying to make someone’s world a little brighter when it’s pretty bleak,” she said. “I told my family that as much as I’m going to fight this, I only have a 1 1/2 percent chance of survival. Once I’m gone, I want Kegs N’ Eggs and brain cancer research to be our family’s legacy. I want my kids to keep fighting for a cure.”
The next Kelli’s Kegs N’ Eggs 5K is set for May 20, 2023. May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month.
McLaughlin’s support system includes her husband, Ryan McLaughlin, parents, John and Gloria Abell, and brother, Ryan Abell, and his wife, Amy. Her brother established a GoFundMe under Help Kelli Beat Cancer and to help with expenses. More than $32,000 has been raised so far.
Her daughter, Mady Wise, 21, is expecting a baby in July. Daughter Kayla Phillips recently finished her freshman year at Berklee College of Music is Boston, while her son, Micah Phillips, is concluding his junior year at CHS. The three oldest children are from McLaughlin’s first marriage. Her youngest daughter, Harper McLaughlin, 5, is headed to kindergarten this fall.