5 NFL stars who battled cancer ft. Trent Williams

Trent Williams has had to battle cancer during his career
Trent Williams has had to battle cancer during his career
Chris Winterburn

People often assume that since NFL athletes are healthy and fit, the problems of the general public don’t apply to them. Whenever you hear of an athlete being ill, you are immediately surprised.

Yet, the very harsh reality of life is that certain illnesses don’t discriminate, and cancer is one such ailment. The NFL has had a long-running battle against the disease, supporting various foundations that seek to raise money to support research into treatments and drugs.

NFL players, despite being incredibly fit, can sometimes come down with cancer. Fortunately, with how often they are medically tested, it is usually caught in its preliminary stages.

Here are five NFL players who battled cancer:

#1 Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly at a NFL game
Jim Kelly at a NFL game

After a troubled start to his relationship with the Buffalo Bills, Jim Kelly retired as a hero in the city after quite a remarkable career in the NFL.

Kelly was the star quarterback of the phenomenal Bills team which reached four successive Super Bowls in the 1990s.

As such, when it emerged that the veteran was battling cancer in 2013, the city was sent into a state of shock.

Kelly was initially diagnosed with skin cancer and had to endure quite a ferocious battle, putting his four Super Bowl disappointments into perspective.

Four AFC championships and 3-0 vs. cancer. If you ask me, that makes Jim Kelly one of the greatest winners ever.

After being given a 10% chance of survival, multiple surgeries and chemotherapy treatments proved to be successful for the former quarterback. He was declared cancer-free in 2019 after six years of fighting.

#2 Eric Berry

Eric Berry
Eric Berry

Eric Berry was one of the elite defenders in the league by the time 2014 rolled around. One game into the season, doctors discovered a mass inside the former Kansas City Chiefs safety.

The mass was analyzed and it was determined that Berry had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, one of the most aggressive cancers around.

Chemotherapy treatments were enough to save Berry’s life and cure his ailment, and the defender was back on the field just nine months after his diagnosis.

Berry was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year for the 2015 season.

The following year, Berry was voted into the Pro Bowl and was an All-Pro star, eventually being rewarded with a six-year contract worth $78 million.

During the 2019 season, Berry was released by the Chiefs to prevent his salary being guaranteed. He hasn't played in the NFL since then.

#3 James Conner

James Conner at the NFL Pro Bowl
James Conner at the NFL Pro Bowl

James Conner has been brutally honest about his battle with cancer, which occurred before the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him. His doctor told him that he was about a week away from death.

The running back out of the University of Pittsburgh had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was discovered during a routine medical check as he rehabbed from an MCL injury.

So serious was Conner’s condition that tumors started growing around his heart. He detailed how bad his condition was in an interview to

“The doctor said, you got about a week, if you didn’t get this treated, you had about a week, the rate this thing was growing.”

By the end of the college season, Conner was declared cancer-free. He has since gone on to star in the NFL, not letting his previous condition hold him back.

Conner's shirt sales were among the highest in NFL right after he was drafted in 2017.

James Conner turning on the speed 🏎

#4 Brandon Bolden

Brandon Bolden
Brandon Bolden

Brandon Bolden was a valued member of the New England Patriots’ special teams unit as the franchise reached Super Bowl LII.

However, the defeat to the Eagles mattered little to Bolden as he was diagnosed with skin cancer in the offseason.

Epidermoid Carcinoma is the medical name of Bolden’s condition and surgery was the only option for the NFL star.

Surgery left him with temporary paralysis on the right side of his face, although he was soon declared cancer-free.

Bolden needed a number of years before his facial muscles returned to full mobility. In the four years that have passed since 2018, Bolden has been a regular feature in the NFL.

#5 Trent Williams

Trent Williams
Trent Williams

Trent Williams is one of the most explosive offensive linemen in the NFL today. He has helped turn the San Francisco 49ers into regular contenders in the playoffs, yet he had to come through an even tougher battle away from the field.

He was diagnosed with Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans, a truly rare form of cancer. Williams was fairly critical of the medical staff in Washington after he went to them in 2014 for a bump on his head.

They dismissed it as nothing more serious than a cyst, but it continued to grow, leading to widespread criticism from other players in the league.

“How does the NFL miss this?” asked Pacman Jones.

Luck was on Williams’ side though. The tumor was removed and the tackle was then declared cancer free.

He missed an entire year of football in 2019, but returned in 2020 with the Niners and was once again a dominant blocking presence. He made it to the Pro Bowl in back-to-back campaigns.

Edited by Akshay Saraswat


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