By Eric Mollo
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images(NEW YORK) — Jim Kelly did not expect what life would have in store for him after football. The longtime Buffalo Bills quarterback has spent much of his post-playing career promoting wellness and spreading awareness about cancer, sharing his own experience fighting the disease.
Kelly was diagnosed with cancer in his upper jaw in 2013, and after undergoing surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, he lives cancer free today.
He also established the non-profit “Hunter’s Hope Foundation” after retiring in 1997 to honor his son Hunter, who was diagnosed with the rare, degenerative disorder, Krabbe disease. Hunter Kelly died in 2005 at the age of 8.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer spoke exclusively with ABC News about spreading awareness through Your Cancer Game Plan, offering advice to those impacted by cancer and other serious illnesses.
He talked about a few keys that helped him win his battle:
“The key is always early diagnosis”
Kelly told ABC News one of the reasons he was able to beat the disease is because he spoke to medical professionals soon after he was feeling pain.
In fact, he visited doctors numerous times before they determined he actually had cancer. He was experiencing pain in his teeth and headaches, subsequently undergoing at least five root canals before a second biopsy determined he had cancer.
Kelly knew little about how cancer can affect people in their head and neck region, and says consulting with a doctor was not only a way to determine how he could actually treat the disease, but also improve his emotional state.
After he was diagnosed, he talked about feeling left in the dark, facing an unknown battle that caused him stress. His family had already lost their son, and faced the possibility of losing their husband and father, and he did not know how he was going to tell them he had cancer.
Health professionals helped him and his family understand the different options he had for treating the disease, providing comfort, relief, and some hope during an emotional time.
2. Nutrition and Eating Right
“I never was a real good eater… I ate pretty much anything I wanted.”
Kelly, who says he used to have a poor diet, discovered it was vital for him to get proper nutrients in his body both ahead of and after treatment, and believes improving his diet was a key part in his recovery process.
Cancer affected his taste buds and the way he chewed, forcing him to take steps to change his diet. He adds that he had to remove some foods from his diet even though he still enjoyed them.
3. Positive Attitude
“It’s All About Your Attitude”
Maintaining a positive attitude was almost counterintuitive for Kelly. How was he going to attack this potentially fatal disease that he knew so little about?
He applied the lessons he learned from the hardships he experienced during his playing career to get him through. Not winning the Heisman Trophy, undergoing multiple surgeries in the pros, and losing four Super Bowls were just a few on-field challenges Kelly faced. He says he tries to stay “Kelly Tough” like when he was playing in the NFL, and also rely on his team, in this case, his family and support system, to help him through his difficult time.
But Kelly adds that individuals go through their own hardships, and they can recall how they made it through those difficult times as they fight their own battles.
4. Finding Support
“The Four F’s”
Kelly relied on what he calls his Four F’s: faith, family, friends, and fans when he was undergoing treatment. He says many people reached out to him and offered their best wishes, including Jets and Dolphins fans, supporters of the two teams that are rivals of the Buffalo Bills!
Kelly adds that others who feel unsure about their disease or insecure about the way it can affect their physical image can find support groups online.
5. Act and Encourage Others
“You can be a difference-maker… you don’t have to be Jim Kelly”
According to Kelly, your platform is not really all that important. As long as you act, you are making a difference.
The football legend encourages those who are not affected by cancer to get involved. Whether it is participating in a fundraising event, or, as Kelly put it, just giving a loved one a hug, patients are often looking for continued support.
Even offering small gestures can make a difference in the lives of those fighting their own battle.
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Source:: Sports News