BRADFORD, Pa. – Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly and his family are getting out of the hospital for the weekend and attending the New York Knicks game.
As the Hall of Fame quarterback goes through his struggles with his second bout of cancer, there is one man in Bradford, Pennsylvania who knows all too well what Kelly is going through.
Andrew Ayers didn’t leave his home for two years. He was concerned about his physical appearance after his face was reconstructed after many cancer surgeries.
“I’m in remission but I don’t think you can ever beat it,” Ayers said.
He has battled squamous cell carcinoma in his lower jaw since 2008. Doctors have operated on his face 25 times.
Ayers said he had to become comfortable in his new skin.
“The radiation had just weakened me so bad and I just wanted to give up. I didn’t want to do anymore. I hurt every day. I still hurt everyday,” Ayers said.
Pain medications line the kitchen table, as Ayers deals with the after-effects of surgery and rounds of radiation. He had the same cancer Jim Kelly is currently fighting.
Kelly will have his first dose of chemo and radiation Monday. That’s why Ayers wanted to share his story.
“I just know what he’s going to go through,” Ayers said.
The Bradford man says his cancer was caused by chewing tobacco. He had been dipping for decades. Doctors say that’s one cause of squamous cell carcinoma, but there are many others.
“There are the genetic factors, so some people are just genetically predisposed to develop cancers,” said Dr. Anurag Singh, a professor of oncology at Roswell Park.
Dr. Singh has not cared for Jim Kelly nor Andrew Ayers. He compares radiation to a sunburn.
“Our radiation doesn’t just stop at the skin like the sun’s radiation does. Our radiation goes right through you,” Singh said. “Really what you need to ask yourself is what is the function of the area that’s being radiated? All of these functions are what’s affected by the radiation.”
Ayers was fed through a feeding tube for two years. Radiation burned his throat. Having pulled through, he had a message for Jim Kelly:
“Don’t give up; stay strong.”
Even though he’s in remission, Ayers continues his fight every day. He goes to the doctor every two weeks. He says if it weren’t for friends and family, he wouldn’t have made it this far.