What my father's cancer fight taught me about home

Home ...

There really is no place like it. But is that all it is? A place? A hunk of random real estate where we find refuge with family and shut out the world? A piece of geography where we plant our flag? That was all this four-letter word meant to me -- until tragedy, heartache and pain shattered my definition.

I've lived in Buffalo, New York, my entire life. And despite our record-breaking snowfalls and our struggling hockey and football franchises, I'm proud to be a Buffalonian. I know I speak on behalf of the entire Kelly family when I say there's no place we'd rather be. But the truth is, it wasn't the Buffalo wings, beef on weck, Niagara Falls or even Ralph Wilson Stadium that birthed this undying love -- it was the people.

Home is nothing without family. And that's exactly what Buffalo is: family. I didn't realize this until my father's treatment for squamous cell carcinoma of the oral and sinus cavity took him far away to a big hospital in the Big Apple. Far from home and everything familiar. Far from One Bills Drive and the diehard fans we've come to know and love.

I'll never forget the moment when I was faced with the fear of losing the most important man in my life. The one whose strong but gentle hands hold me when I cry. The one who instilled in me a passion for football, sports and life. The man who will one day walk me down the aisle. The one who always reminds me to never give up -- to be Kelly Tough.

If cancer was going to take my father to New York City, then I was going to be right there with him. During the second semester of my first year in college, I traveled from Lynchburg, Virginia, to New York to be with him every weekend as he received his chemotherapy and radiation treatments. During that dark time, his strength and will to survive were slowly fading. And even though I was afraid, I knew my dad would never give up. He couldn't. Because I need him. Our family needs him. The people of Buffalo need him.

On April 19, 2014, we went from a hospital in New York City's Upper East Side to a hospital in Buffalo -- from death to life. Everything changed the moment my father found out he was coming home to finish his treatments. Why? Because although he would spend the next month in the hospital, he knew family, friends and fans would surround him. It was the people. The prayers, the letters, the pictures, the signs, the T-shirts -- everything that inspired and encouraged a man who lived to inspire and encourage others.

It might sound cliché, but home really is where the heart is. And our hearts will always be with the city of Buffalo.

Through the Hunter's Hope Foundation, the Kelly family assists those affected by leukodystrophy, funds research for a cure and advocates for early detection through newborn screening. You can help by visiting www.huntershope.org/give to make a donation.

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