Football star Jim Kelly receives outpouring of support in cancer fight

Jim Kelly's battle: Hall of Famer's family sp... 04:34

Pro football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly is fighting for his life at a New York City hospital.

The longtime Buffalo Bills quarterback has faced many struggles, including the loss of his only son. His latest battle with cancer has inspired an outpouring of support around the country.

After 11 seasons with the Buffalo Bills and a record four straight Super Bowl appearances, Kelly retired in 1996.

The challenges he has faced since have far surpassed any obstacle on the field. One year after leaving the game, Kelly's only son, Hunter, was born with a rare neurological disorder called Krabbe disease.

Kelly became the nation's most prominent voice in support of early screening and research. Hunter's Hope - his foundation - has raised $14 million.

Hunter died in 2005, at the age of 8.

Kelly's wife, Jill Kelly said, "I think the struggle with Hunter has changed that man. He's changed. And I think the struggle with Hunter is also helping him to get through what he's going through now. And the compassion that he has for people is being paid back to him a bazillion-fold right now."

Now, nine years after Hunter died, Kelly is fighting an aggressive recurrence of oral cancer. The cancer has spread and it's currently not operable.

The family has posted a series of photos on social media, which have inspired an outpouring of support not just in western New York -- where students are signing cards for Kelly -- but across the country. Gifts from people the family has never met are arriving at the hospital, and so are longtime friends, including former Bills running back and Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas.

"Jim said, '34, you just don't know how bad my head is feeling right now'," Thomas said. "And my response to him was, 'If I can take your head for a little bit -- for a little while -- I would switch it with mine'."

Dan Kelly says the most remarkable part about his younger brother, even in the face of an all-consuming illness, is his continuing concern for others.

"It's never been about him," Dan Kelly said. "It's always been about other people and what he can do for somebody else. He's the definition of love. It's very painful to watch him go through it, and to sit there and not be able to do anything about it. ... All you can do is pray and just ask, 'Is there anything I can do?' at any given moment."

Asked if there are times if he wonders, 'why?' Dan Kelly said, "Yeah, I wonder a lot."

Late Sunday night, Jim Kelly sent CBS News this message from the hospital: "I'm very humbled that so many people took the time out to not only send me well-wishes, but more importantly the prayers. That's what's gonna get me through this. I have so many people to thank, but I'd be here all day. So, on behalf of my family, thank you so very much and don't stop those prayers."

Asked what she wishes for her dad, Erin Kelly said, "My wish is that when people look at my dad, they see a guy who fought the good fight, and who did it with such joy and courage and bravery because that's who he is. That's his character. I pray that when people see us they find hope and they find faith through what we're going through."

For now, Kelly will stay in New York City. His family hopes a new treatment brings them new hope.