Jim Kelly: ‘Family’s Attitude Helped Me Through’

It all began with jaw pain. Then came the headaches, then came the root canals, and then came the cancer diagnosis.

“Really didn’t know how to take it,” Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “You have so many people in this country that have cancer and I think everybody knows somebody or has a family member that has that particular disease. It was hard. It was hard to tell (my family). It was hard to tell my kids. But we’re strong. We have our faith and it definitely has been tested in the last couple years.”

Kelly’s daughter, Erin, was a senior in high school when her father was diagnosed with cancer in 2013.

“Initially it was just shock for all of us, especially my sister and I,” she said. “I never thought cancer would come into the Kelly family or that we would hear that my dad would have cancer. It definitely hit us hard at the beginning, but then we heard that he was going to have surgery and they were going to remove it. And so, we had hope – a lot of hope – that once it was removed, it would be gone and we wouldn’t have to hear the word cancer again.”

It wasn’t, and they did. The cancer returned. Kelly went through chemotherapy and radiation – treatment that he said “tore me down pretty good.”

“(You think) you’re really tough. Well, you ain’t that tough,” Kelly said. “The good thing about the whole ordeal was the people that came to see me – my family. Never (once) did they walk into my room with a frown on their face. They walked in with an attitude that they were going to make a difference in my life. They were going to make a difference in that day – how they talked to me, how they reacted. That’s really what got me through. Not only that, but of course all the prayers that people had for me. (You have to) surround yourself with key people.”

Kelly did – and now there’s a book about it. “Kelly Tough: Live Courageously by Faith,” written by Kelly and Erin, is a story of faith, love and survival.

“We all have our own story,” Erin said. “Through ‘Kelly Tough,’ I wanted people to be able to relate to what we were going through. Ultimately, ‘Kelly Tough’ is not about the Kelly family. Although we are a celebrity family, people can look to us as just being real and having gone through the same circumstances that many people have gone through. And so, we share deep, real moments. Pretty much my heart on paper is that book. Just sharing what I went through watching my dad suffer through cancer and watching my brother, Hunter, suffered through Krabbe disease when he was little and just how that taught me to look to the strength of God in the midst of my weaknesses and in the midst of the weakness of my family. That’s really what I share and hope people are encouraged by.”

Kelly said that even in his darkest hour, he never thought he was going to die.

“Early on, I had the attitude like, ‘You know what? I’m going to beat this,’” he said. “I guess I really didn’t realize how bad it was and my family never really told me. I guess they didn’t want me to know because they saw the fight I had in me. I guess there are times when you think about it, but deep down in my heart, no, I really didn’t. You got to keep fighting. If it’s my day tomorrow, then it’s my day. But right now, I’m enjoying my life. I’m enjoying my time with my family. When I read the book, I thought about the things I went through, but also my son Hunter and how proud I am that I had somebody like my son who suffered every day of his life and saw what he fought through. If he can do it, there’s no doubt that I can do it.”

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