In cancer's pain, former NFL star puts hope in Jesus

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Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s, says Jesus is his hope as he deals with constant pain from oral cancer.

Kelly, 54, underwent surgery last June to remove a squamous cell carcinoma from his upper jaw, leaving him with a prosthesis. During routine follow-up tests this month, Kelly's doctors found the "aggressive" cancer had returned. Now he faces chemotherapy and radiation to fight off the disease, which doctors said this week couldn't be fully removed by surgery.

Well-wishes have poured in by the thousands on Twitter under the hashtag #PrayersForJK, including from numerous National Football League teams and players. "Plans and protocol have changed—but no plan and purpose of God's can be thwarted!" Kelly's wife Jill wrote Thursday.

Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, Kelly spent 11 seasons with the Bills, which lost all four of their Super Bowl appearances in 1990s. The Kellys established the Hunter's Hope Foundation in 1997 after their son Hunter was born with Krabbe disease, an inherited degenerative disorder of the nervous system. Given little more than three years to live, Hunter died at age 8 in 2005.

In public testimonies and in their book Without a Word, the Kellys have described how Jill became a Christian when Hunter was 2 years old. But a bitter, unfaithful Jim left the couple's marriage seemingly doomed after Hunter's death. During marriage counseling, he became a believer himself. Today, it's next to impossible to find a spoken or written word by the couple that doesn't mention God.

"We've been interviewed countless times and most of the time the fullness of what we say doesn't make it to print. JESUS = our HOPE!" Jill wrote on Facebook on March 5 after ESPN spoke with the couple. Doctors discovered the cancer had returned about a week later.

Jim's doctor, Peter Costantino, said in a statement that the cancer is now in Jim's maxillary sinus and adjacent tissues. "Jim Kelly's condition remains very treatable and potentially curable," Costantino said. "Our immediate focus is on controlling his pain and beginning the process of eradicating the cancer."

Thousands of supporters are sending messages of prayers and encouragement to Kelly through social media.

"Just the overwhelming support and prayers we've been getting is unbelievable," Dan Kelly told The Buffalo News. "Jim reads those messages on PrayForJimKelly (Facebook), and it's encouraging to him and gives him strength."

Before flying home from a Liberty University trip to Israel, Jill posted a photo of their daughter Erin placing a prayer in the Wailing Wall. "And although I don't understand," Jill wrote, "I choose to trust His heart."