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Bill Bergey opens up about his battle with cancer

Bill Bergey
Bill Bergey

During his seven seasons with Philadelphia, Eagles Hall of Fame linebacker Bill Bergey was cheered at Veterans Stadium for giving everything he had on the field – for playing as hard as he could play.

When the Eagles host the Washington Commanders this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, Bergey, the game's Honorary Captain, will be cheered again. This time, for giving everything he has and fighting as hard as he can fight against cancer.

Two years ago, the two-time All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowl selection, and three-time Eagles MVP found himself lined up against an opponent more formidable than he'd ever faced before.

"I was going to my dentist, and my dentist didn't like what he saw," Bergey says. "He wanted me to go to Philadelphia, to the Penn Center, and have it checked out. And when they checked it out, they saw that cancer had started in my jaw.

"I didn't give it the old, 'Why me?' or anything like that. I just thought that I had to fight it just like I would fight anything else that I needed to fight."

Initially having surgery on his upper jaw and sinus area in June, Bergey had to have a second operation. This time on his lower jaw.

"I had a doctor that was going to extract a tooth and he didn't like what he saw," Bergey says. "So he sent me back to Philadelphia, to the Penn Center, and they didn't like what they saw and they operated on me again.

"The only problem I am having right now is I have several leaking fluids in my mouth. I almost have to lean my head back. I'm getting that work done right now. But actually, I'm doing real good. All my numbers are real good. I just have this problem with my mouth."

Through this whole experience, Bergey has had conversations with and been encouraged by former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, who has battled oral cancer himself, and also had jaw surgeries.

"He has kind of been my inspiration. He keeps me on the up and up," Bergey says. "'Just remember,' he would say, 'you're a football player, you're tough, and you can beat this. You can handle this.' He didn't give me a Knute Rockne rah-rah-type of a talk. He just said, 'Bill, one thing. Are you eating?' And I said, 'No, I'm not really eating much at all.' And he was this blunt, 'You either eat or you die.' And I said, 'OK, I think I'm going to start eating then.'

"He talks about his five brothers, that he didn't want to get out of his room one day, and the five brothers said, 'Well, you're getting out of here whether you want to or not.' And the five brothers just took him right down the hall and gave him a nice long walk. And he appreciated that.

"And I will tell you one thing. My kids have stepped up to the plate like I've never seen anybody step up to the plate. My three boys drove me all over the place, gave my wife (Micky Kay) a break. I don't know if I could have made it without them."

The Eagles-Commanders game, and Bergey's return to the field, coincides with the NFL's Crucial Catch mission to fight cancer through early detection. The Crucial Catch game also presents an opportunity to honor cancer survivors and those, like Bergey, who are currently battling cancer.

"I've always had a love affair with the fans of Philadelphia," Bergey says. "I have always been kind and courteous to them all the way up that ladder of success that I had because, you won't believe it, but I've met the same people coming back down off that ladder."

And the advice he'd offer those people about seeing a doctor ...

"If they feel like there's anything wrong, go check it out and make sure that you stay on top of it, because the quicker you can do it, the quicker you're going to be in good shape," Bergey says. "How do you know that you have cancer if you don't know if you have cancer or not? Have it checked out. If there's anything that's bothering you, I would give it an all-in on that one."

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