Kali Mordaunt “Stupid Cancer”

Kali J. Korzelius devoted much of her life, in her short time as an adult, fighting for young people battling the same disease that would claim her own life – cancer.

After being diagnosed with brain cancer six years ago, the former Kali Mordaunt and her future husband, Matthew Korzelius, became active with stupidcancer.org, an organization that empowers young people diagnosed with cancer. She always wore the organization’s black bracelet, and she and her husband headed the local chapter.

Kali  Korzelius worked most recently as a program assistant in the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, preparing informational pamphlets and events for other young people with cancer.

Before she died Wednesday in her Grand Island home at age 27, she also sent those fellow young people a larger message with her actions, even after her brain cancer took away much of her mobility and the use of her left arm and leg.

“The visual evidence of what she was going through was right there for everyone to see,” Matthew Korzelius said.

The young adults with cancer would see her commitment to the cause, and that inspired them to take an active role in their community.

It was all in keeping with Korzelius’ constant advice, borrowed from stupidcancer.org, to fellow young adults with cancer – “to get busy living.”

Even in her final days, Korzelius was almost obsessed with working with those young people.

“In the end, it was constantly on her mind, getting back to work, to serve the community of young people with cancer, instead of just worrying about her own struggle,” her husband said.

Family members said that Kali Korzelius adopted a pay-it-forward approach in all her volunteer efforts.

Her older brother, Keith Brewer, died of cancer at age 6 in 1987 when she was only 2½.

She may have been too young to remember any of that, but the lessons stuck.

“It was a big thing in our family, to pay tribute to Keith, to dedicate a lot of our time, friends and family, to make a difference with other children with cancer,” said her mother, Jacqueline Pritchard.

When she was a young teen, Korzelius loved telling Grand Island High School classmates, other friends and family members her main goal in life: “I want to bring life to the people.”

She’d say it with a big grin on her face and joke about how ill-defined her goal was.

“In the end, that’s really what she did, bring life to people,” Pritchard said. “She was such a happy, giving, loving person, and she wanted other people to feel the way she did.”

In high school, she started a student volunteer group to help people in need, mainly elderly Grand Island residents. She spent her summers going to other parts of the country to help build homes with a Habitat for Humanity-type group.

While at the University of Albany, she worked in an after-school program for disadvantaged youths, and after earning a master’s in psychology, she worked as a social worker for foster-care children in the Bronx.

Then after being diagnosed with cancer, she became active with stupidcancer.org, which has its own motto, “I’m Too Young For This.”

Korzelius also became a Roswell Alliance board member and will be honored posthumously with the Katherine Anne Gioia Inspiration Award, presented each year to a volunteer dedicated to the battle against cancer.

“Like young Katherine Anne Gioia, to whom this award pays tribute, Kali didn’t let brain cancer define her, but instead, just got busy living,” a family member stated.

Surviving, besides her husband and her mother, are her father, Timothy Mordaunt; a sister, Victoria Mordaunt; a brother, Scott Brewer; a grandmother, Elsie Pritchard; and a grandfather, James Mordaunt. Services are private.

Friends, loved ones and young cancer survivors – her Team Kali – still can see her smiling face, on a YouTube video, at www.youtube.com/user/stupidcancer.

“My name is Kali Korzelius,” she says. “In 2006, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Here’s why I think cancer is stupid. I can’t move my [left] hand anymore. Now my right side’s working overtime to bring the young-adult movement to Buffalo.”