Yesterday at Above + Beyond Cancer, we lost one of our family members. Kerri Ann Brenner was 33 years old and left behind an adorable 3-year-old daughter, Lily, and an adoring husband, Travis. She passed away in Des Moines yesterday afternoon, shortly after saying goodbye to Lily.

Kerri was a participant in our January expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa, and would be considered by many to be an unusual destination for a woman who had never been camping and whose only trips outside the United States had been on warm cruises in the Caribbean. Kerri’s application certainly wasn’t the first one we received for the program, but it also wasn’t the last. In her application she confessed that her delay in applying was primarily due to her “mommy instinct” telling her that two weeks was too long to be away. Doing things for herself wasn’t something that came naturally to Kerri. She lived her life in the service of others.

Kerri grew up in Colfax, Iowa, a small agricultural town of about 2,000 people in rural central Iowa. In high school she played every sport. She ran cross-country and track, and she played softball, volleyball, and basketball. She also played in the band, where, after eight years of practice, she reached the level of first chair clarinet. (A fact she proudly included in her Kilimanjaro application under the category of “qualifications.”)

After high school, Kerri enrolled at Mercy College in Des Moines, where she graduated in 1999. After graduating, she worked for Iowa Orthopedic Surgeons in Des Moines as an x-ray tech. She met and then married the guy of her dreams, Travis, in April 2006. The young couple was excited to start their own family and in August of 2008, they welcomed their baby girl, Lily. Kerri lived in a state of awe and profound love for her daughter, and Lily quickly became the center of Kerri’s universe.

In January of 2010 (at the age of 31), Kerri found a lump in her chest during a regular self-examination. She immediately scheduled a mammogram, and was told that she had a fibroadenoma, a noncancerous (benign) cyst. However eleven-months later, in December, she had a biopsy which determined that the growth was a triple-negative, invasive ductile carcinoma. On December 29, Kerri had a lumpectomy and four lymph nodes removed, followed by chemotherapy and Taxol. During chemotherapy, an additional lump was discovered and excised, and three more lymph nodes were removed. Kerri then underwent radiation treatment, which was completed just five weeks before she applied to join our team in Africa.

Perhaps it was the courage she gained through her treatment that caused her to send in the application for Kilimanjaro. Perhaps she wanted to see the world. Knowing Kerri, it’s more likely she applied because she was looking for a few new friends who might understand what she had been through and who might help her find the next steps in her journey a bit more easily. Whatever the reason, ten weeks after her last radiation treatment, Kerri led our group of 40 to Africa.

Kerri certainly wasn’t the only person that spent the first night on the trail crying, but she was definitely the loudest. In the darkness of that African night, the separation from Lily had become unbearable and her decision to skip an anniversary cruise with Travis for a climbing trip with a group of cancer survivors probably seemed to her to be an incomprehensible mistake.

But the next morning the sun came up, and as the tents began to unzip we found Kerri wrapped-up in her tent in the arms of a new friend – a friend who had walked the same path that Kerri had walked and was seeking the same answers that Kerri was seeking. As the morning light warmed their tent, Kerri quietly sipped a cup of tea and she smiled. In her smile, there was a new look of contentment and confidence. It was the look of a person who suddenly has a new understanding of life’s mysteries, and a person who suddenly sees her role in those mysteries with new clarity.

Like so many of our friends and family, Kerrie left us too soon. As we sit here in this darkness – in this world filled with cancer – it is easy for us to become overwhelmed by fear as we struggle to find the energy to continue our fight. But in this darkness we have two things. We are together, and through our community we gain courage and strength. And we are filled with memories of our extraordinary friend, and through those memories we have been inspired.

17 Responses to “Out of the Darkness”

  1. Chris Kovachevich

    An amazing story about an amazing young lady who comes from an amazing family – who will carry her memory with them forever…

  2. Emily McMillen

    I had the honor of knowing Kerri through my sister, who was a friend & co-worker. Our hearts are broken, but we are blessed to have known such a kind, funny, loving person. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of Kerri’s family and friends.

  3. nedra carr

    Kerri will be remembered bye all who knew her she always smiled through the halls of the high school her senior year, She fought a hard battle but god called for her u will always be a gardian angel looking down on your family and friends, RIP Kerri

  4. Robin Brenner

    What a beauftful tribute this is in Memory of Kerri. It is so hard to keep the tears from flowing because the loss of such a beautiful person has left a whole in our hearts. Her spirit does live on through Lily we see Kerri there every single day and she will live on through her daughter forever.

    I love you Kerri,

    Robin Brenner
    Mother In Law

  5. Tammy Blaede

    Beautifully said. Kerri was such an inspiration to us all. I will deeply treasure the short time we had together and will keep her smile in my heart forever.

  6. Julie Goodale

    This is such a beautiful tribute to Kerri! Thank you.

  7. Tomoko Yajima

    Beautiful story. Kerri did everything so quietly with such grace. She never complained about anything and kept radiant smile on her face. We will miss you, Kerri.

  8. Mona Van Zomeren

    I know Kerri’s mom and mother-in-law…I know the community she was raised in…I know it was her faith that gave her the courage and strength to face the frailty of the human body…I know her love for Travis, Lily and family and friends came from a heart that beat for Jesus…and most importantly I know we will all see her again.
    Praying for her family as they continue each of their life journeys without this beautiful young woman….Lily is so blessed to have the Grandma’s she has!!! 🙂

  9. Marcie Holmes-Strait

    Such an amazing tribute for Kerri. I only knew Kerri through the beautiful photos and links that Travis posted on FB, what an amazing story and family. Kerri touched my heart and I will remember this story forever as I’m sure many others will. Coming from a mother of a 3 year old, my heart aches for Lilly, but the incredible family and friends that surround her everyday she will grow with incredible strength and courage. Kerri will live through her and keep the light shining bright. My God bless you and your family during this time and always.

  10. Andrea Davis

    I had the pleasure of being classmates w/ Kerri in grade school & while I hadn’t seen her in several years, I remember her smile & her love for life. Lily & Travis have lost a beautiful & wonderful wife, mother & friend, but they are surrounded by a FAMILY that joined them thru Kerri’s illness. Kerri, God called u home per his plan & while many believe it was too soon, u shall now b the Angel that guides your daughter & protects her thru life’s scary times…THANK U KERRI 4 all u gv the world b4 u joined our Lord in heaven…u will b missed by so many…

  11. Beverly Lund

    A beautiful tribute to a beautiful women. I will never forget her beautiful
    smile and all the hugs we shared on Kili. Rest in Peace my friend.

  12. Bonnie DeMaria

    I’ve never met Kerri but what a wonderful wife an mother she must have been to travel to Africa an face her fears. Her family will miss her but will have Lilly to enjoy an see their daughter in Lilly’s eyes. Rest in God’s arms Kerri.

  13. Connie Duinink

    On our flight to Africa as we sat side by side, each tugging at ill-fitting compression sleeves, Kerri shared her cancer journey with me. Her grace and gentleness were as inspiring as the mountain she climbed. It was easy to hear her love and devotion to Travis and Lily and thinking of them brought both tears and smiles. We all loved her and drew strength from her quiet courage and sweet smile!

  14. Kerri Casey

    My name is also Kerri Ann and am a breast cancer survivor of 1.5 years. Reading her story struck me on such a personal level that it made me cry too even though I have never met her. I am happy though that she found the courage to leave her family to make the trek to Africa and give us all inspiration. I’m sure that her family will miss her dearly. You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  15. Cheryl Kahle

    I certainly agree, this is a beautiful tribute to Kerri. I printed it and took it to work to share with my boss and a co-worker, although they did not know Kerri they too thought it was a very beautiful tribute to Kerri. We all prayed for Kerri’s family to get through this difficult time. Kim & I will always cherish the times Kerri & Travis came to the Black Hills in SD and stayed with us during the Sturgis motorcyle rallies, we enjoyed having them stay with us so much. Kerri will be in hearts forever.

    Aunt Cheryl Kahle on the Brenner side of family.

  16. Michelle Berdusis

    Last Friday, I was reading updates on facebook and saw Kerri’s story on Above and beyond cancer. As I laid in bed that night in Duluth, the night before my family was going to run as a team in the half marathon, one which I had signed up for months prior to being dianosed with stage 3 breast cancer I had not planned on running …that was until I read about Kerri and her story. That next morning I got up with my team and made it to the starting line and walked the half marathon with Kerri and others in my thoughts the whole time. I shed tears along the way for each of them and I walked in their memory. I wanted to share how much she inspired me and thank you for sharing her story. I am sorry for your loss of this beautiful person.


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