Kelly Stafford, wife of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, says she’s well on her road to recovery, six months after she underwent a 12-hour surgical procedure to remove a tumor from her brain.
In a new essay for ESPN, the NFL wife details her journey from diagnosis to rehabilitation, including how her husband’s perspective on football has changed since.
“It has gotten a lot better lately, but I still have some bad days,” she writes.
Kelly describes one of the first times she recognized herself “feeling ‘off’ ” back in January.
“I was in Michigan and had just gotten a massage. When I walked out, I just didn’t feel right,” she says. “I was light-headed and it felt like the world was spinning around me.”
Following several instances of dizziness and unusual weakness, Kelly received a diagnosis: acoustic neuroma or vestibular schwannoma, a tumor sitting on her cranial nerves. The news immediately made her think of her children, daughters Chandler, Sawyer, and Hunter, she says.
“My biggest fear is not being here, and not being here to raise my girls,” she says. “When I went home to hug my girls after the diagnosis, I knew I needed to get through this. I tried not to go down the rabbit hole when it came to what was the worst. I wanted to focus on positivity.”
Since her surgery in April, Kelly had to relearn how to walk, plus she experienced difficulties with loud noises, as her hearing in one ear is partially damaged. To still be able to interact with her family, Matthew even taught their children to whisper around Kelly to make for a quieter recovery environment.
“Matthew was incredible during the whole process,” she says in the ESPN piece, sharing his commitment to helping with her rehabilitation exercises: “He was literally by my side at every step.”
The health concerns, Kelly says, have also changed the way she and her husband look at football.
“This football season, in general, feels different for us. We have a different outlook,” she says. “Matthew is still going out there and doing everything he can for the team, but going through this, you realize that in the end, family is the only thing you have.”
Back in May, Matthew described his wife’s health situation as changing “a lot of things.”
“It kind of puts stuff where it should be. But it’s been good,” he said, according to USA Today. “Like I said, I’m just happy to be out here throwing the ball around to some really talented guys, having some fun, playing some ball.”
As for what she hopes others take away from her story, Kelly says now she is urging moms to listen to their own needs from time to time.
“As a mom, you’re always on the run. You’re chasing after your kids or worrying about your family. You tend to put yourself on the back burner,” she writes. “If you ever feel the slightest bit off, you need to take the time to get it checked out. You don’t have to put everything on your back. Sometimes, you need to take some time to make sure you are OK.”
Now — halfway to the point at which doctors say Kelly could be symptom-free — she is looking into hearing aids to help her resume her normal life, and she has even picked up boxing again.
“It was always really challenging [before], but now with my brain it’s far more challenging because of the hand movements that are so quick, that are so hard to comprehend,” she tells ESPN of her return to boxing exercises. “After those workouts, I’m drained — mentally and physically. Boxing is my therapy outside of therapy.”
Kelly, who has been open about sharing her medical experiences with the public over the past year, says social media offered a way for her to connect to supporters and gain encouragement .
“Not only did I want to let people know what I was going through, I wanted to say: It’s OK to be scared, regardless of your situation,” she writes.
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