After persistent pain in Jim Kelly’s jaw would not subside even after trying to treat it with a half a dozen different antibiotics, the Hall of Fame quarterback knew something was wrong. Fortunately that pain prompted him to seek the counsel of an oral surgeon, who ultimately made the diagnosis of bone cancer. The good news, as Kelly explained it, is the cancer was detected in its early stages and has remained localized.
“We caught it in time, which is good,” said Kelly, who admits he’s still learning every day about his current affliction. “When I talked to the surgeon and they went over my CT scan they knew I caught it early enough. But just like anything you have to wait a number of months after surgery to make sure nothing comes back. So I’m very confident.”
Kelly’s first question was how bad things were, but after finding out through testing last week that his cancer is confined he’s encouraged.
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“Now that I’ve been assured that it’s pretty much located in one area of my jaw, but it’s like anything, once they get in and start cutting away and cutting the cancer out they’ll figure out how much they’ve got to take,” he said.
Kelly, who has been through back surgery, double hernia surgery and neck surgery in the last three years knows there are no guarantees in surgery.
“You try to keep as positive as you can all the time,” said Kelly. “I remember with all my other surgeries, my back surgery that was scary. Having my neck operated on at Christmas time that worried me because you never know what’s going to happen.”
The Hall of Famer is confident knowing he’s in the hands of one of the best oral surgeons in the country in Dr. Thom Loree, who will perform his surgery Friday at the Erie County Medical Center.
At the same time Kelly understands that he’ll be losing more of his teeth, part of his jaw bone and will likely need some measure of facial reconstruction and possibly need some measure of chemotherapy.
“We will know after the surgery if I have to do any radiation or chemo,” said Kelly. “I hope not because I’ve talked to people that have been through this and it’s not a pretty sight, but it’s part of the healing process.
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“There are certain things that they’re going to do prior because there has to be a hole that leads from my jaw bone into my nasal cavity. It has to be filled so there is bone grafting that has to be done. I’m not a doctor and I don’t know all the terminology behind him, but I told him when I met with (Dr. Loree) and the whole team that when you go in do what you’ve got to do.
“If there’s something that you don’t feel looks right, take it out. Whatever needs to be done, so I am better off when I come out. There are a lot of things when you go in and think you’re getting one thing, then all of a sudden you find this, this and this. I don’t want to go back in. If you see it take care of it then.”
Kelly isn’t worried about the ‘what ifs.’ He’s left that in the hands of his physicians. His focus is to remain positive, focus on his faith and his healing so that he can overcome his latest challenge.
“Like everything it’s just another river to cross, another stumbling block,” he said. “I’ve been to the top many, many times and I’ve been to the bottom and it’s just one of those roller coaster rides that I’ve been on throughout my life. It’s just another challenge for me and I know I’ll beat it. That’s the bottom line.”