The time that someone on Twitter told Erin Kelly that he hoped her dad died of cancer could have soured her and the family on sharing so much of Jim Kelly's battle.
Jim Kelly's two bouts with cancer have been very well documented, because it was unavoidable as a Hall of Fame quarterback but also because the Kelly family shared so much of it. A lot of the ordeal played out on their social media accounts and the blog of Jill Kelly, Jim's wife. Most of the feedback has been incredible. Not all of it was, though.
In 20-year-old Erin's new book, "Kelly Tough," one of the stories she tells is of that Twitter message wishing death on her father. And after the initial moments of anger passed, the Kelly family decided that the best thing to do was to pray for the Twitter bully, to ease the anger and sadness that forced him to send that message. So they did.
"It taught me a lot about forgiving and bringing those circumstances to God when at first you want to fight back," Erin Kelly said in a phone interview, regarding that Twitter troll. "This person obviously is hurting. For a person to say that they have to have a lot of hatred in their heart. Seeing that encouraged me to say, there are other people who are hurting and going through a struggle, and I want to be an encouragement and share our story."
As you can find in the pages of "Kelly Tough," the family is able to turn just about any situation into a positive.
Jim Kelly's battle with cancer (both occurrences have been in his upper jaw area) became much more than a football story. His battle was inspiring. So was the way that fans everywhere, whether or not they cared at all about the Buffalo Bills, rooted for Kelly. The family's strength struck a chord with just about everyone.
Jim Kelly initially didn't want to share what he was going through.
"I’m a very private person, and I didn’t want my wife and daughter going to social media and advertising what was happening," Jim Kelly said in a phone interview. "But [Kelly's wife Jill] told me, 'You need as many prayers as you can get. And you can be an inspiration and share the never-give-up attitude you’ve always had and change their thoughts on life and how their faith can get them through any tough circumstance.'"
Then Jim Kelly, football legend, sounds any other husband.
"It didn’t take me long to realize my wife was right," he said.
They decided to share their story and didn't hold back. There's no shortage of stories on the Internet detailing every step of the journey. Jim Kelly struggled physically, like any cancer patient, and that made some of the updates difficult. But it also gave people images like one that Erin posted in March of 2014 of her laying with her dad in a hospital bed after Jim Kelly had found out that the cancer had returned. If there's an image that encapsulated everything about the story, it was this one:
It was a touching image, but normal for the Kelly family.
"At the time I didn’t think anything of it," Jim Kelly said of the photo. "It was just a daddy’s love for his daughter and her love for me, and I’d embrace every moment my daughter would hug with me and pray with me."
The story ended well, of course. Jim Kelly was found to be cancer free last year. He had an awesome moment at the NFL draft when he announced the Bills' second-round pick, as the crowd in Chicago gave him a huge standing ovation that clearly touched him. And Jill and Erin were there chronicling the whole event, of course.
"Nobody knows what tomorrow holds," Jim Kelly said. "With all the things I’ve been through, all the surgeries, cancer, all these things I’ve went through, knowing I can spend that quality time with my daughters and wife means everything."
The book sums up the Kellys' triumph. It's a deeply personal book, sharing the heartbreaking story of Erin Kelly's brother Hunter's death in 2005 after his battle with Krabbe Leukodystrophy, other personal stories like Jim Kelly's admission of infidelity and revealing stories about Erin herself. it also talks in depth about the Kelly family's religious faith and how that helped them through all of their battles.
"At the beginning of everything my dad was very hesitant, and so was my mom and I, about sharing and how much to share," Erin Kelly said. "We were going through a deep situation. To share that with the public was extremely hard at first because we didn’t know what the feedback would be. Ultimately we came to the point where we decided that we’ll do this and encourage other people. Sharing this struggle so publicly, people surrounded us in prayer and were encouraged in their own struggles.
"Honestly we were all very surprised and humbled by all the people who reached out. I truthfully didn’t anticipate the amount of people who gravitated towards our story."
Erin Kelly talked about how she has heard from many people, not just those dealing with cancer but many different struggles. One family that reached out had a member dealing with cancer, and they made shirts like the "Kelly Tough" shirts the Kelly family had, but with their last name and then "Tough" on them. That stuck with Erin. That showed how they had reached others.
Was it all worth it? To say so would trivialize the physical pain Jim Kelly went through and the emotional stress for his family and friends. But the book shows that the Kelly family turned a terrible situation into a positive one, and it has strengthened them all.
"I would say, not that cancer necessarily is the blessing, but what God did in the midst of cancer is a blessing," Erin Kelly, who is a student at Liberty University, said. "He showed us who He is and how we are in desperate need of His strength. And through my dad’s suffering, our relationships have grown so much. We are living fearlessly, holding onto every minute. We're holding onto God and each other in the midst of whatever circumstance we find ourselves in."
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