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Kelly Tough: Hall of Famer believes Buffalo has helped his recovery

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

Hall of Famer Jim Kelly's story during the past year has featured a rollercoaster of physical ailments and emotions.

The former Buffalo Bills quarterback was diagnosed with oral cancer last year. One optimistic treatment was followed by another round of chemotherapy when the disease again showed up. And after he was declared cancer-free, he was diagnosed with MRSA, which took him back to the hospital to fight the infection.

NFL Network health and safety reporter Andrea Kremer recently talked with Kelly about the resilience he has needed to overcome these illnesses -- and the role the city of Buffalo has had in his recovery.

"This will be my home until the day I die," said Kelly, who took the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls during the 1990s.

Along the way, he gained support from fans with the slogan "Kelly Tough."

"I went through neck surgery, back surgery, double-hernia surgery," Kelly said. "Very shortly after that I had six root canals done because of the jaw issue. Then the second diagnosis of cancer.

"I'm done with all this pain. I want to be able to wake up one day and say, 'You know what? I feel good today. I don't have to take any more medication. I don't have to be on an IV anymore. I don't have to continue to eat through my belly.' "

Jill Kelly, Jim's wife, said she gives him IV medication three times a day and has fed him through a tube attached to his stomach. Jill said that while it reminds her of taking care of their late son, Hunter, who died at age 8 because of a rare genetic disease, she doesn't resent it.

"Hunter gave me so much for allowing me to take care of him," she said. "I feel the same way about Jim. It's a little bit different when it's your husband, and I have to put him in his place every once in a while."

Kelly has lost 70 percent of his hearing because of the radiation treatment. He also has numerous prosthetic teeth because of the ravages of the oral cancer.

Though he must undergo monthly checks for cancer, he was allowed to have a Thanksgiving meal with his family. His lost sense of taste is returning, and on Monday he will have his feeding tube removed.

He said along the way he has learned that he is not as tough as he thought he was.

"People don't understand, when they talk about 'Kelly Tough.' The physical toughness, I was born with that," he said. "But for me the mental toughness was one that I needed."

Jill said the turning point for Kelly was coming back to Buffalo from treatment in New York City.

"Literally from one hospital to a hospital here (in Buffalo), he came to life," she said.

Added Jim: "At times, there were people here that needed my support. But I needed their support, too. There's not a family around here better than the Buffalo Bill family. Everywhere I turn, there were people praying for me, people that were giving me well-wishes. And to be honest with you, I don't think I could have made it anywhere else."

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