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Exclusive: Terry Bradshaw reveals why he waited a year to go public with cancer diagnoses

“Cancer shows no favoritism,” the former Steelers quarterback told TODAY during an interview with Harry Smith.
/ Source: TODAY

During a “Fox NFL Sunday” segment in September, fans noticed that analyst Terry Bradshaw appeared to run out of breath while breaking down plays from a few games.

A week later, on Oct. 2, the legendary Steelers quarterback revealed on the show that he had been diagnosed with two forms of cancer in the past year — bladder cancer and a rare, aggressive type of skin cancer called a Merkel cell tumor.

In the segment, the 74-year-old Pro Football Hall of Famer assured the audience that he was “cancer free” and felt like his old self and clarified that he received his first cancer diagnosis in November 2021 — meaning he waited almost a year to publicly speak about his health issues. And in an interview with TODAY aired Wednesday, Nov. 2, the former football star explained why.

“I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want pity," he told NBC News correspondent Harry Smith. "I didn’t talk about it because a lot of celebrities — unfortunately, I’m one of those — when they say this, I think the perception around America with all the the millions of people is, ‘Aw, look at him. Bless his heart. He has cancer. Well, my husband died of cancer! My kids are…’ I didn’t want that.”

"Took me a long time before I told my family," he added.

But when he received negative feedback from fans, he decided to share his story publicly.

“I couldn’t breathe," he recalled. “That’s when everybody notices. ‘What’s wrong with him?’ Social media went, ‘Get rid of him. He needs to be off the air. He’s an embarrassment.’ And I was like, 'Embarrassment? I got cancer.'"

Despite his health problems, the four-time Super Bowl champion said he "never was scared."

“I don’t think cancer cares,” he quipped. “Cancer shows no favoritism.”

After receiving his diagnosis, Bradshaw said his Christian faith helped him maintain an attitude of “Well, if I go, I’m OK. If I stay, I’m OK.” 

As the Fox Sports co-host said on television in October, he received treatment at the Yale University Medical Center for his bladder cancer and became cancer free. But in March, he received more troubling news from his doctor. 

“I had nerve pain in my neck and my shoulder,” he explained to Smith. “I have injured my neck before, so this is not uncommon.”

His medical team found a tumor. "And I went, 'What?' Now, this bothered me," Bradshaw recalled.

While his skin cancer diagnosis ended up being more serious than the bladder cancer, it was still successfully removed at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Despite the former athlete's initial hesitation to tell his family, he said his wife, Tammy, has been crucial to his recovery.

"I can’t put into words how thankful I am for her. Seriously. I can’t imagine not holding her hand when we take off on a plane or when we land or when we snuggle up when we’re in bed together," he said. "I look at her and she doesn’t know I’m looking at her, and I’m so thankful now I’m getting emotional."