The NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Shares His Journey with Bladder Cancer and Merkel Cell Carcinoma
by Ashley Hubbard
Terry Bradshaw is a name that is synonymous with American football. He is one of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history, winning four Super Bowl championships with the Pittsburgh Steelers, becoming a two-time Super Bowl MVP, and being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has also seen a lot of success as a television personality, co-hosting shows like FOX NFL Sunday and starring in the reality series The Bradshaw Bunch.
However, behind the success and fame, Terry Bradshaw has also had to face one of life’s toughest challenges –cancer. And he had to face it twice within five months.
Bladder cancer and Merkel cell carcinoma
In November 2021, Terry was diagnosed with bladder cancer. This came after a fairly routine checkup with his doctor.
His treatment program at Yale University Medical Center in New Haven, CT, consisted of surgery to remove the tumor in his bladder and weekly Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) treatments for six weeks. Following that, he also has to return every three months for maintenance BCG treatments.
It wasn’t long after he was done with his initial treatment for bladder cancer that Terry received the next round of devastating news. In March 2022, only five months since his first diagnosis, Terry had an MRI after some recurring neck pain.
That was when he found out about a Merkel cell tumor, a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer, in his neck. He underwent a neck dissection, followed by proton beam radiation therapy, both of which were done at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.
What Terry Wants Cancer Survivors to Know
“I just want to say to all the people with cancer out there, that there’s love, tons of love for you. And surround yourself with people that care about you and love them and enjoy them. I just believe you have to stay positive. So for all of those out there, like me, we’re cancer survivors, we have cancer. Just know that you’ve got a support group out there and take advantage of it.”
Aside from feeling a little sick and being uncomfortable during the actual treatment itself, Terry says he didn’t endure any severe treatment side effects while being treated for his bladder cancer.
It was the Merkel cell treatment that affected him the most. He has dealt with a lot of side effects from the surgery and radiation, including facial swelling and numbness, neck pain and soreness, and skin tightness and blisters.
The value of support
Despite knowing the prognosis was favorable, Terry openly admits to taking a negative outlook upon first hearing the news. But he credits his wife, Tammy, for being his rock.
“My wife was good,” Terry recalls in a recent interview with Coping® magazine. “She said, ‘Hey, you’re going to beat this. You’re a positive man. We got the best doctors.’ And so away we went.
“My wife was constantly asking questions, she researched everything, she called the doctor, and she had a lot of answers for me. And that was good. I always had her, and she was always loving. She was always telling me how much she loves me. That’s the most important thing – those that you love are there for you to lift you up. And it just fills your heart with joy, just absolute joy.”
Along with his wife’s support, Terry found the value, like so many other cancer survivors do, in a support group. “I hooked up with a group of men that had all kinds of cancers,” Terry explains. “And we have a little chat box we do about every two weeks, and everybody’s checking on everybody. So, I got a little family there.”
Going public was never in his plans
In October 2022, Terry made the announcement about his two cancer diagnoses on FOX NFL Sunday. At the time that Terry revealed his news to the world, just shy of a year since his first diagnosis, he was also able to give an update that he was cancer-free.
Despite being able to give positive news, sharing his cancer status was never something Terry planned to do. He admits that he decided to go public only after he received some harsh criticism from fans following an incident where he was left out of breath while demonstrating a play on-air.
My dilemma was, I didn’t want to tell anybody. I didn’t want the pity.
“During the surgery for the Merkel cell, there was a slight bruising of the nerve in my lung, and so it was kind of like a partially collapsed lung. So, I didn’t have any wind,” Terry recalls. “I was on the set and moving really quickly on a football demonstration, and I couldn’t breathe. People were saying, ‘Get him off the air. He’s embarrassing himself.’”
That’s when Terry knew he needed to speak up. He went to his producer and the FOX team and told them what was going on.
Terry is often known for his “tough guy” image, but this news forced him to share a rare vulnerable side with the world. “My dilemma was, I didn’t want to tell anybody. I didn’t want the pity,” he admits.
However, Terry says, “FOX was awesome. FOX NFL Sunday producer Bill Richards, my friend, he was just amazing. And then my co-hosts Howie, Jimmy, and Michael, they were just like that brother fraternity wrapping their arms around you. That’s the FOX family. That’s the boys I work with on Sundays. And so I was glad it came out.”
Despite his cancer experience and an already huge résumé of personal and professional accomplishments, Terry has no intentions of slowing down.
“I still love what I’m doing,” Terry says. “I still love working at FOX. I love doing the football show. I still love horses and that business. I give corporate speeches. I love being on stage. I love entertaining people. I just want to keep on keeping on. So just, no changes.”
As for his medical prognosis, Terry is cancer-free, but he will continue to have regular checkups and maintenance BCG treatments at Yale for his bladder cancer.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, Spring/Summer 2023.