Atlanta lacrosse player Anthony Kelly is fighting breast cancer

Breast cancer is a personal issue for Anthony Kelly.

The Atlanta Blaze player watched his mother fight and survive the disease more than two decades ago.

Now he wants to help others do the same.

Kelly, who splits his time between Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio, and other Major League Lacrosse players are participating in the “Real Men Wear Pink Challenge” to benefit the American Cancer Society and educate people about breast cancer.

“The main objective of this campaign is to raise money for a cause near and dear to my heart, but also to reach an audience of our lacrosse fans — that are predominantly men — and get them to take ownership in finding a cure to a disease that affects so many women,” said Kelly.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, according to the American Cancer Society, and is expected to kill more than 41,000 people this year. Although men can get breast cancer, most often it affects women.

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At 7 p.m. Saturday, the day before Mother's Day, the Atlanta Blaze will play the New York Lizards at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University in the first "Real Men Wear Pink" game.

Fans are encouraged to wear pink to the game and can participate in activities to help raise awareness about breast cancer. Players’ sticks will be pink for the game and there will be a special fan competition to see who brings the most tricked-out, “pinked-out” lacrosse stick. Kelly’s mother will be honored before the game.

Here's how the challenge works: Fans pick their favorite player and pledge for every goal, save, or groundball they record through the "Pledge It" web site. The funds raised by each player will help their team reach the top of the leaderboard and be crowned "Real Men Wear Pink Team of the Year," helping to lead the fight for a world without cancer.

Kelly is competing against other players in the league, including Blaze Captain Scott Ratliff for the title of “Real Man of the MLL.”

‘Real Men Wear Pink” is a campaign that typically kicks off nationwide in October and is a way to give men a greater role in the fight against breast cancer.

“The Real Men Wear Pink is a successful fundraising program, and a natural fit for MLL during the month of May, around Mother’s Day, and fits in during their season,” said David Doan, vice president for strategic sports alliances, American Cancer Society.

Linda Kelly, who lives in Cleveland, was 49 when she was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer.

There was no family history. The teacher and mother of two didn’t smoke or drink and exercised regularly.

“I was very, very healthy, which was very good,” said Linda Kelly, who is now retired.

She underwent chemo and 30 round of radiation.

But she was determined to beat the beast.

“It was a crazy time,” said Linda Kelly. “You just put one foot in front of the other. No one is going to tell you this is going to cure you. You have to believe in God and believe in yourself.”

Adds Kelly: “Even though my mother was the true hero in fighting her breast cancer, my whole family — my father, brother and myself — were all affected, and that speaks to the ability of an illness like this to have a cascading effect on more than one individual.”