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Hall of Famer's cancer recovery 'nothing short of a miracle'

Jim Kelly at the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony Getty Images/Photo by Jason Miller

Hall of Famer's cancer recovery 'nothing short of a miracle'

Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly thanked God on Thursday as he called his daughter to tell her, “Daddy is free of cancer.”

The outspoken Christian quarterback and his family gushed upon receiving the news that biopsies found no signs of sinus cancer. His wife, Jill, filmed his phone call to their daughter, Erin Marie. “I don't even know what to do with myself,” Jill Kelly said. “I’m so overwhelmed! I’m so thankful!”

Jim Kelly, 54, underwent surgery last June to remove a squamous cell carcinoma from his upper jaw, leaving him with a prosthesis. Tests and excruciating pain in March revealed the cancer had returned and spread in his sinuses, eliminating surgery as an option. Two months of intense chemotherapy and radiation left him weak and facing three long months of recovery.

“This is some of the greatest news I’ve ever gotten,” Kelly said in a statement Thursday. “It’s been a long road, and I’m still not back to 100 percent, but I have a lot to be thankful for.”

Thursday’s results confirmed an initial Aug. 20 exam that couldn’t conclusively declare him cancer-free. "The great news is that upon physical examination, there is no evidence of the cancer," said Dr. Peter Costantino, who treated Kelly at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital. “The treatments so far have completely eliminated Mr. Kelly’s pain, and his level of function has essentially returned to normal.”

Costantino cautioned then that, depending the biopsy results, Kelly might need both surgery and Gamma Knife radiation therapy. But every biopsy came back negative, an outcome Costantino called “nothing short of a miracle,” according to Jim Kelly.

“Without my faith and God’s constant presence, there would be no such thing as ‘Kelly Tough,’” the quarterback said.

Well-wishers used the social media hashtags #KellyTough and #PrayersForJK” throughout Kelly’s treatment as they followed Jill Kelly’s scrupulous documentation of their journey—from visiting fellow cancer patients to Jill’s surprise appearance in her wedding dress on the couple’s 18th anniversary. “Every single tear has been worth it,” she said. “I love this man and thank God for him and all that He has allowed us to walk through.”

Jim Kelly faces a “couple follow-ups,” but no treatment or pain for now. He told ESPN’s Outside the Lines last month that his biggest bucket-list item remains walking his two daughters down the aisle at their weddings. “That’s something I’m going to strive to do—if I have to crawl there,” he said.

And then there’s football. The family remains involved with the Buffalo Bills and has voiced interest in joining an ownership group that would keep the team in Buffalo. The Bills’ future has been increasingly uncertain since owner Ralph Wilson’s death in March, with speculation swirling that buyers would move the team to Toronto or Los Angeles.

Kelly’s clean bill of health Thursday—in “God’s perfect timing,” Jill Kelly said—also coincided with the kickoff of the National Football League’s regular season. “What a great night for some football,” she said. “So much to be thankful for.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.

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