Cancer survivor Gary Burley: ‘Early detection is the key’

By Fred Mitchell

For the Birmingham Times

From left, Gary Burley, his former University of Pittsburgh coach Johnny Majors and Fred Mitchell. The trio gathered at the conclusion of last Thursday's charity golf tournament at Greystone Country Club.
From left, Gary Burley, his former University of Pittsburgh coach Johnny Majors and Fred Mitchell. The trio gathered at the conclusion of last Thursday’s charity golf tournament at Greystone Country Club. (Provided photo)

Gary Burley made a career of being a premier run-stopper and difference-maker on the football field as a defensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons.

And it has been with that same relentless determination that Burley summons all of his resources to fight back against cancer, one of life’s fiercest competitors.

“When you overhear your doctors talking and they say you’re not going to make it, you realize how serious your condition is,” said Burley, who resides in Birmingham with his wife, Bobbie Knight.

Burley was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in 2012, went through chemotherapy for a year and underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2014.

“Then when you recover… I had a passion for paying back my doctors, nurses and hospital staff, and to create awareness for this disease,” Burley said last week after hosting the Gary Burley Charity Golf Tournament at Greystone Country Club to benefit cancer research.

Burley, who played nine years in the NFL and was a member of the Super Bowl XVI Bengals team, now undergoes kidney dialysis treatment three times a week. He thanks Dr. Diego de Idiaquez Ba’kula, Dr. Racquel Innis-Shelton, Dr. Edward Partridge, Dr. Donna Saltzman and the entire UAB Bone Marrow Transplant staff.

His friends and family keep Burley upbeat and hopeful. Former Bengals teammates Isaac Curtis, Pete Johnson and Louis Breeden were among the many celebrity guests for this year’s golf tournament. Former Falcons teammate William Andrews also took part in the event that included a grand reception at Burley’s home.

Giving back has been a constant theme for Burley, whose Pro Start Academy mentoring program has been one of his passions.

“Pro Start Academy is an excellent sports and academic academy that teaches student athletes the basic fundamentals of football, the academics they need to not only get in school but stay there,” Burley said.

“The last component brings in executives to share with the kids how they got from the loading dock to the boardroom.”

Burley expressed tremendous gratitude for the sponsors of the golf tournament, including: Alabama Power Company, Waldrop Kendrick Stewart, Pike Electric, Coca Cola Birmingham, Dr. David Lemak, Robert Simon, Chris Butler and Montez Renault.

“The most important message is for people to make sure they get checked out by their doctors. Early detection is the key,” Burley said. “It saved my life.”