A Delaware Native’s Legacy Offers Hope for Those With Lung Cancer

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Rob Kalesse spent his final months working with the American Lung Association. His wife, Cristina, is still involved with the organization.

Contrary to popular belief, not all lung cancer diagnoses occur in smokers.

Cristina Kalesse was at her husband Rob Kalesse’s side when he was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic lung cancer in January 2019. It was not the Wilmington writer’s first battle with cancer; as a teenager, he had beaten stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma after a routine checkup revealed it was curable. This time, the prognosis was not as positive.

Rob, a nonsmoker, was given a 5 percent chance of surviving for a year.

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He posted his diagnosis on social media; friend Lynda Neef—the former development manager for American Lung Association—quickly responded with a way he could use his diagnosis to help others.

“Rob was looking for something hopeful,” says Cristina, 40, the assistant principal at Alexis I. du Pont High School. “Getting involved with the lung association provided that.…It was important that he knew he was leaving a legacy of hope for others.”

That October, just three months before he passed away, Rob was a Lung Force Hero at the association’s annual Lung Force Walk in Rehoboth Beach, where he delivered a speech about the importance of living what time you have left to the fullest.

lung cancer items graphic
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“His hope was infectious,” Cristina says. “People look at his life and they are inspired.”

Staying involved with the association became a way for Cristina to work through her own grief.

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With more than 30 friends and family, dubbed the “Warriors Never Quit Team,” they’ve raised more than $80,000 over the past three years at various other fundraisers. This August, the Rob Kalesse Memorial Classic annual golf tournament will raise more money to help advance research, improve lung health and save lives.

“Every time I participate in an event…I try to be positive for those who are going through this struggle. I want them to see some hope in what we are doing,” Cristina says.

“Rob’s mom and other family members often say how proud he would be,” she says. “If the roles were reversed, I know he would have done this for me.”

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