Jim Kelly’s cancer battle shows his winning spirit and serves as another example of the former NFL star’s resilience on and off the football field. The former Buffalo Bills quarterback, who was neither a smoker nor chewed tobacco, received his original cancer diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma last spring and underwent surgery in which the upper portion of his left jaw and several teeth were removed in June 2013. Following his first surgery to remove cancer, the Hall of Fame quarterback was originally informed the surgery had been successful and he was cancer-free, yet he continued to experience intense headaches and pain in his head.
As it turned out, Kelly has numerous microscopic tumors surrounding his infraorbital nerve, as well as near the carotid artery in his head, which is responsible for Kelly’s intense headaches and head pain. After a second cancer surgery was aborted, the former Buffalo Bills quarterback was poised to start a regimen of treatment on Monday to battle the cancer re-occurrence. However, the treatment has been postponed until next Monday due to a fever over the weekend. Kelly is in 24-hour, constant, chronic pain. He cannot feel the skin on the left half of his face, his lip feels like it’s on fire, and he has a prosthetic device where his upper left jaw was removed. Additionally, the two teeth Kelly has left in the affected area following his initial cancer surgery have had six root canals. Moreover, he admits he has not been able to sleep in years without medication. In fact, his wife, Jill, never remembers Kelly sleeping through the night over the course of their relationship.
Kelly’s cancer battle shows his winning spirit and resilience, but it has been one of many struggles the Hall of Famer has endured over the course of his life and career. The former NFL star has extensive injuries related to his playing days including two plates inserted in his back with 10 screws, as well as a neck plate and six screws. Additionally, he just recently had a double hernia operation. Moreover, there are the string of personal and professional upsets that Kelly has overcome–He never wanted to play football in Buffalo, yet he played 11 years with the Buffalo Bills franchise. He yearned to win a Super Bowl, yet the Buffalo Bills made it to the grand championship an unprecedented four consecutive years without winning one. There was also the 2000 Alaskan bear hunting trip, during which Kelly’s plane went down in the Bering Sea. The former NFL star managed to kick out a window and swim to shore, then thawed himself out using a Bunsen burner. However, nothing has affected the former NFL star more than the son he yearned for and championed, Hunter, who suffered from Krabbe disease and died before his ninth birthday in 2005.
Hunter James Kelly was born on his father’s 37th birthday and the former NFL star had such hopes and dreams for his son and himself. When Hunter was diagnosed with globoid-cell leukodystrophy (Krabbe disease), which is a rare inherited lipid storage disorder linked to enzyme deficiency, shortly after his birth in 1997, Kelly’s life changed direction and he established Hunter’s Hope, which is a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of Krabbe patients and has dramatically increased public awareness of the disease. Additionally, he and Jill founded the annual Hunter’s Day of Hope, which is held on February 14, the birthdays of both Jim and Hunter Kelly.
Jill Kelly credits the loss of their son Hunter and their family’s struggle with Krabbe disease in helping Kelly as he battles cancer while showing his winning spirit and resilience. She has witnessed the experience transform her husband in many ways. Jim Kelly has not always been a loving and devoted man. He was a man with many flaws and exhibited destructive behavior towards himself and others for many years. Ultimately, Hunter’s plight and subsequent death made Kelly realize his self-destructive nature and strive to change his ways and make amends to those he hurt along the way–especially his family. His wife knows Kelly’s transformation saved their marriage and family, and she remains confident that it will enable him to battle for his life as cancer ravages his body. While a second cancer surgery was recently aborted, further surgical intervention is expected in the future. More details about Kelly’s cancer and his family’s perseverance are available in a Sports Illustrated story by Peter King, who recently interviewed the Hall of Fame quarterback in his room at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan where he currently undergoing cancer treatment.
Commentary and Edited by Leigh Haugh