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Thousands rally in support of Jim Kelly in his cancer battle

Family, friends and fans are rallying in support of Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly during his renewed battle with cancer, and his family reports it is a boost to his spirits.

Concern across Western New York for the Hall-of-Fame quarterback has been high since it was learned almost two weeks ago that his cancer had returned — less than a year after he underwent surgery to combat oral cancer.

Kelly’s wife, Jill, reported this week on her internet blog that “the cancer’s back, aggressive, and starting to spread.”

She reported via Twitter on Monday that surgery is tentatively scheduled for Thursday. Kelly is being treated at a New York City hospital.

“And every day we prepare, get stronger, trust God!” Jill Kelly wrote.

The Kellys have been buoyed by thousands of messages of support on social media. Fans have expressed their support on Twitter by using the hashtag “PrayersForJK” and on a Facebook page titled “Prayfor JimKelly.”

“Just the overwhelming support and prayers we’ve been getting is unbelievable,” said Dan Kelly, one of Jim Kelly’s five brothers. “Jim reads those messages on Prayfor JimKelly, and it’s encouraging to him and gives him strength.”

Regarding the upcoming surgery, Dan Kelly said: “Jim is going through this for a reason. We’re not sure what that is at this point, but we trust in God and that he’s preparing Jim for something more and something greater.”

“There has been an outpouring of support from the NFL to the commissioner, to Mr. Wilson,” Dan Kelly added, referring to Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. “Peyton Manning, all of Jim’s friends among players and NFL management, they’ve all been texting and calling and offering their support. … What has been amazing is how we’ve heard from so many people Jim has touched over the years, including people who never met Jim, and we’re starting to feel that ripple effect from them.”

The congregation at the Chapel at CrossPoint in Getzville knelt in prayer during Sunday services and prayed for Kelly, among others. The services are streamed online and were watched by the Kellys.

“So incredibly overwhelmed and thankful for @chapel_buffalo and the multitudes who are praying for Jim,” Jill Kelly wrote on her Twitter account.

The Chapel’s Sunday services draw about 5,000 people a week.

“At the end of the day, the Kelly family is part of our church family, and so like anyone in our church family that’s going through a difficult season, we want to join them in praying and lifting them up to the Lord for his help,” said Pastor Jerry Gillis.

“Certainly in a situation like this, knowing that the spotlight of Western New York is on the Kelly family, we’re obviously praying that they walk through this circumstance like believers in Christ walk through difficult times. We know they have a firm faith in God, and the whole family is trusting him in this process.”

Meanwhile, Bills greats Andre Reed and Bruce Smith flew into Western New York on Friday and joined fellow Bills Hall-of-Famer Thurman Thomas in visiting Kelly at his home.

“We were telling jokes and laughing and trying to be as normal as possible,” Reed said. “All of us have a bond on the field and off the field that runs very deep.”

Average fans also have been sharing their well wishes by signing a massive get-well card coordinated by 97 Rock radio personality DJ Jickster, a friend of Kelly’s. The station brought it around to the sites of its morning show and took it downtown over the weekend, during the NCAA basketball tournament in Buffalo.

“It’s funny because everybody wants to tell me their Jim Kelly story, whether they met him once and he touched them or when they watched him play and what a tough guy he was,” the disc jockey said. “It’s been very emotional taking it around, because there’s a lot of great stories.”

The station collected 4,000 signatures on a card it delivered to Kelly in June. It expects to collect many more than that on the current card before delivering it to Kelly.

Kelly, 54, underwent surgery on June 7 after being diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. Doctors had to remove part of Kelly’s upper jaw, part of the roof of his mouth and numerous teeth.

More cancer was found this month during a follow-up visit Kelly made to his doctors at the Erie County Medical Center.