Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback announced last week his oral cancer had returned again. Kelly previously battled the disease in 2013 and 2015, having part of his upper jaw removed three years ago. On Friday and Saturday, Kelly spoke with Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News and later was feted at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation awards in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he spoke publicly for the first time since his most recent diagnosis.
“I go, ‘Hey, I’m not dead. If I can still go, I’m going,’” Kelly told the crowd, where he received the Lombardi Foundation’s Award for Excellence. He is participating in a fishing tournament on Sunday. “Hey, my surgery isn’t until the end of the month. If the good Lord decides tomorrow’s my day, hey, I’m going out with a fish in one hand and a cup of beer in the other.”
You can read most of Kelly’s speech here.
The surgery Kelly is set to undergo later this month will take a portion of his leg bone and blood vessels to full reconstruct his jaw, Kelly told Carucci. It was supposed to just be the upper-left portion of his jaw that was going to be replaced, but when Kelly’s oncologist found something she didn’t like during a scan, they took the biopsy when Kelly was under anesthesia for a gallbladder procedure. The new cancer will be removed and his entire jaw will now be reconstructed.
Kelly has had the surgery scheduled for a while due to the pain he had endured since 2015 after having the portion of the jaw and part of his palate removed.
“The bottom line is I can’t rely on my medicine for the rest of my life,” Kelly told Carucci. “And the quality of life was not there. Kelly Tough ... I can only be so tough. And then, after awhile, it was like Kelly Tough’s getting old. I’m a human like everybody else. You can say what you want, but the thing is, pain is pain... I don’t complain to anybody. But my family sees it every day and the thing is, (I know) the type of quality of life I want, and if there’s something out there that can help me, then I need to pursue it, I need to look into it.”
“The extent of what we were originally planning to do is not significantly different now,” said Dr. Mark Urken, an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon at Mount Sinai who will perform the surgery. “At this point, there’s a slightly different focus with ensuring that all of this cancer that’s present, which is not a large amount of disease, based on exam and based on the imaging studies that have done very recently. The expectation is that that won’t change the operation significantly. I feel very confident that we’re going to be able to get not only around this tumor very readily but also get Jim back on track here with, hopefully, a better quality of life moving forward.”
Dr. Urken goes into more detail about the surgery in Carucci’s excellent article which you can read here. There is also more from his oral oncologist, Dr. Maureen Sullivan, in the article, as well.
At Sunday’s dinner, Kelly received well wishes from around the NFL community, put together at the last minute following his most recent diagnosis. Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich, who backed up Kelly in Buffalo for most of his career, shared a message from the 2018 NFL Combine. Wisconsin native J.J. Watt, Hall of Famer Dan Marino, ESPN anchor Chris Berman, and a host of other celebrities also took part in the tribute aired at the dinner and linked below.
We cannot say thanks enough to our Award of Excellence Honoree, Jim Kelly. Thanks for fighting, inspiring & showing your strength & resilience to everyone here. Not only do we want to say thanks, but so did a bunch of Jim Kelly's friends and brothers. https://t.co/7ER91vAIuF— Lombardi Foundation (@Lombardi_Fdn) March 4, 2018
“I might have lost four Super Bowls in a row, but I’ve kicked cancer’s (butt) twice,” Kelly said before traveling to Wisconsin. “And I plan on making it a third, with the grace of God.”