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Maki: Jones returns to say goodbye Add to ...

If you didn't know better you'd think he was as sound as a million dollars.

"Check it out," he said, jumping from his seat in the middle of the Pembina Village Restaurant and lifting his sweater above his waist. "I used to weigh 244 pounds. Now, no butt, no gut."

It's true; Tyrone Jones looks svelte and lively and full of the same high-octane energy that made him one of the Canadian Football League's most ferocious linebackers. But looks, as they say, are deceiving.

Inside Jones's head is a tumour the size of a grapefruit. Through chemotherapy and aggressive radiation treatments, the tumour has stopped growing but the doctors have ruled it inoperable and incurable.

At 45, the man who holds a record for most quarterback sacks in a Grey Cup game is dying. He may have 24 hours. He may have 24 days. You ask how he can handle coming back to Winnipeg to say goodbye to friends and former Blue Bombers teammates and he breaks into a toothy grin.

"I'm blessed," Jones said Thursday. "I truly am. I'm the three-legged dog named Lucky."

Word of Jones's cancer first spread a year ago when he returned to the Manitoba capital as part of the Blue Bombers' legacy celebration. Known for his relentless play on the football field, and for a mouth that never stopped talking, Jones was a fan favourite and a reason why the Blue Bombers won two Grey Cups, in 1984 and 1990.

At the legacy dinner, Jones let people know he was stricken with cancer. The prognosis then wasn't great. "The doctors told me, 'Go live your life. There's nothing more we can do for you,' " he said. "But it's like when I played football. You don't give up. You never quit."

Jones leaned back in his chair Thursday and raised his sweater and T-shirt to reveal the tube imbedded into his stomach. There are valves at the end of the tube and one is for the nutrients and supplements he must take; another is for the drip bag that contains the morphine pills he crushes and mixes with water.

Jones deals with the situation as best he can and never complains.

"He's just started eating solid food again," said Darla Voth, a Grey Cup volunteer, substitute teaching assistant and Jones's guardian angel for his week-long visit. "The other morning he found out he could eat Rice Krispies without a problem. He had nine bowls of Rice Krispies."

Voth understands what Jones is going through. She is a cancer survivor, three years in remission. As Jones struggled during lunch to catch his breath while eating, she calmly provided instructions and spoke of his attitude.

"I gave him that blue wristband that says, 'Never alone.' And he's not alone. He's a fighter," Voth said. "He's dealing with it the best way he can."

It began with a strange feeling in his nose and a doctor in Detroit, where Jones was coaching with a college football team, saying, "Something's not right in there, Tyrone."

Jones said he could take care of it and then blew his nose so hard a tooth came out of it. The doctor figured it was all because of a teratoma, a type of tumour. He told Jones to have it checked. There was no sense of urgency in the doctor's voice so Jones let it slide.

Then his left eye began to protrude from its socket. He had a magnetic resonance imaging procedure done. Doctors discovered the reason. They told Jones he had a 2-per-cent chance of surviving the necessary surgery.

"They said they'd have to cut my face in half to get at the tumour," he explained. He opted to move to Atlanta for chemotherapy and radiation treatments, one a day for 18 weeks. He had to be strapped down tightly and wear a special mask to protect his face. When the treatments were over, the radiation had burned a hole the size of a quarter in the roof of his mouth.

All that, he insisted happily, and life is still amazing.

"A very, very good friend - Darren Van Wynsberghe - paid for me to come up here [for Sunday's Grey Cup game] He picked me up at the airport and everything," Jones said. "And then I found out this guy, he was a 14-year-old kid in high school and remembered me visiting his school once, he named his son after me. I'm building something positive here."

And yet, the clock is ticking and Jones knows it. In the same restaurant where he used to eat as a Blue Bomber, he talked about his friend and former National Football League running back Craig [Ironhead]Haywood, who died this year after complications from a brain tumour. He talked about one of his cousins who was killed recently when the vehicle she was riding in was struck by another car.

Jones talked about a lot of things without straying from the philosophical approach that has made him look and sound better than he really is.

"I've never asked, 'Why me?' I've never questioned it. You gotta do what you gotta do. I just have to deal with it and live my life."

No butt, no gut. Just lots of courage.

Follow on Twitter: @AllanMaki

 

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