Jimmy Donovan Announces Relapse Of Leukemia

Popular radio voice of the Browns Jim Donovan announced a relapse of leukemia, which was first diagnosed in 2000. (WKYC Channel 3)

Popular radio voice of the Browns Jim Donovan announced a relapse of leukemia, which was first diagnosed in 2000. (WKYC Channel 3)

Jimmy Donovan announces relapse of leukemia

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.

Jimmy Donovan is fighting leukemia for a second time.

The long-time sports anchor of WKYC Channel 3 and popular play-by-play radio voice of the Browns announced on the air Wednesday that the disease he was diagnosed with more than 20 years ago has come back.

Unbeknownst to his many fans, Donovan has been battling a relapse of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) for about a year and a half. When a more aggressive treatment plan was undertaken recently, Donovan began losing his proud head of hair. He could no longer keep his battle a secret and that is why he decided to make the announcement at the beginning of the station’s Front Row program at 7 p.m.

Donovan, 66, first was diagnosed with CLL in 2000. After years of chemotherapy and other treatments, he had a bone marrow transplant in the summer of 2011 after a perfect match was found. 

The goal of returning to the Browns radio booth energized his recovery, and Donovan made it back three months after the transplant.

There have been many ups and downs since then with bouts of severe fevers, a diagnosis of melanoma and surgeries. Through it all, Donovan performed his duties at 3News and calling Browns games on 850 ESPN Cleveland with rare enthusiasm and boundless energy.

“I have an incredible family,” Donovan said. “My wife Cheryl is my No. 1 go-to person, my advocate. And my daughter Meghan is amazing. We were knocked for a little bit of a loop when we got the news about this, but we’ve steadied ourselves and we’re ready to go once again.”

Donovan said he noticed “something amiss” about a year and a half ago. His worst fears, which never totally escaped him, were realized. The disease had returned.

Donovan explained he will work when he can, but tending to his health now is his top priority.

“This is going to be kind of a long and winding road through this treatment plan, because it is going to be aggressive,” he said. “The goal is gotta get better, gotta get healthy, gotta move on. I know the deal. I’ve done it before, and I plan to do it once again.

“Though all of this, I will be here at Channel 3 and on the radio as much as I can be, but there will be periods of time that I might not be with you, maybe for a day, maybe for longer.”

Donovan’s love of calling Browns games on the radio has been wonderful therapy for him in the past. He does not know at this time when he’ll be back in the booth for the 2023 season, which is his 25th year as Voice of the Browns.

Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam issued the following statement:

“Our thoughts and the thoughts of the entire organization are with Jim and his family right now in this difficult time. There is no better representative of the Cleveland Browns. He is as tough as they come and proved as much in his previous battle. We’re all behind Jim and will do everything we can to support him. We look forward to him winning this fight, being around the team and continuing to call our games during the season.”

Donovan has been treated at UH Seidman Cancer Center and expressed “total confidence” in the medical professionals handling his case.

“They have done an amazing job for many, many years treating me and I am ready to put my case in their hands again,” he said.

WKYC President and General Manager Micki Byrnes released the following statement:

“Jim Donovan is a Cleveland broadcasting legend, whose name has become synonymous with the Northeast Ohio sports scene. Just as Jim handles his daily reporting and analysis with smarts, grit and strength – we know that Jim will bring that same tenacity and spirit to this health battle. We appreciate that the viewers and community stand in solidarity with our WKYC team in supporting Jim and his family, just as they always have for the past 38+ years.”

Donovan, a native of Boston, arrived at WKYC in 1985. During his tenure in Cleveland, he called NFL games on NBC for 11 years and worked play-by-play on several events during the network’s coverage of the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics.

Donovan had a message for the fans at the close of his announcement.

“Know this,” he said. “I have always had you in my thoughts. And I adore being with you as we go through the ups and sometimes downs of Cleveland sports. So you are in my thought and you are a goal for me to be back with you, here at Channel 3 and down at the stadium calling the Browns up in that radio booth. And I’ll be there when I can or as much as I can.

“Right now, duty calls. And the duty is I have to get better. I think everything right now is pointing in a positive way.”