Eric Berry will be an inspiration to Chiefs teammates


SEPTEMBER 2015 – Safety Eric Berry shocked the world—including his Kansas City Chiefs teammates and coaches—when he showed up the first day of training camp in St. Joseph, ready to play. Just 247 days after the devastating news that he had Hodgkin lymphoma, Berry was back on the field.

He is the inspiration for the 2015 Chiefs, whether or not he makes a single tackle or breaks up a single pass.

“It gives me chills,” said linebacker Justin Houston, who gained notoriety last season after recording sacks by lifting his jersey and pointing to Berry’s No. 29 handwritten on his T-shirt.

Said quarterback Alex Smith, “To be honest, I felt like I was undeserving to even be in there with him. He’s a special person, a special teammate, just as he was before. The way he’s handled everything, just to see him come out of this (I’m) so incredibly happy for him.”

Berry has surprised people every step of the way. He has shown tremendous strength and toughness while battling the treatment, much as the disease.

“Lymphoma is the name applied to a group of blood-cell tumors that develop from lymphatic cells,” according to Wikipedia. “The name often refers to just the cancerous ones, rather than all such tumors. Symptoms may include enlarged lymph nodes, fever, drenching sweats, weight loss, itching and feeling tired.

“There are dozens of subtypes of lymphomas. The two main categories of lymphomas are Hodgkin lymphomas and non-Hodgkin lymphomas. About 90 percent of lymphomas are non-Hodgkin lymphomas.

Sponsor-Chiefs“Treatment may involve: chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and surgery. The outcome depends on the subtype, with some being curable, and treatment prolongs survival in most. The five-year survival rate in the United States for all Hodgkin lymphoma subtypes is 85 percent.”

Those statistics don’t show the percentage of people who are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and return to play in the NFL in less than a year.

“My whole thing was, ‘It’s going to be what it’s going to be.’ I was going to control what I could control, and the two things that I could control (were) my attitude and my effort,” Berry said. “I just tried to wake up every day and build off of what I did the day before. In that situation, the only thing you can do is take it day-by-day.”

His treatment involved several rounds of chemotherapy, which was debilitating. But Berry was determined not to let it derail his efforts.

“It was tough,” he said. “It was a battle every day. It came to a point where I had to set goals to just get out of bed.” With the support of his parents, he got out of bed each day and started working toward recovery, “working” being the operative word.

“I was training while I was going through chemo,” he said. “There would be times where I would end up crying after the workout because I couldn’t believe I made it through. I couldn’t believe that it was that hard. I was trying to push myself to the limit, (but) I couldn’t push myself the way that I wanted to.

“I just had to break it down and embrace the process and understand that everything wasn’t going to come back overnight. When you add chemo into something like this, it is a whole different monster. It literally feels like you are dying. You can’t go around people, you get sick easily, you have no energy, (there are) certain foods you can’t eat. It just zaps you for a good amount of time.

“From a mental standpoint, it breaks you down. That’s when you are at your weakest. Really, when you look at it, you aren’t really battling chemo. You are battling yourself the whole time. It was really a battle of me versus me. Once I got my mind (around) the situation, I could just go out there and just do what I could do and control what I could control.”

Berry’s strength is legendary. Chemotherapy usually causes patients to lose significant weight, but his workouts—during the chemo—allowed him to gain a pound of muscle. Tight end Travis Kelce, who trained with Berry after the treatments, was blown away by what his teammate could do.

“I was just trying to keep up with the guy,” Kelce said. “EB is superhuman. Superman doesn’t have anything on Eric Berry. You can’t say enough good things about him. It’s good just to have him back as a brother, but also as a leader and a football player. It’s good to have him back in good spirits, lighting up the atmosphere a little bit.”

After six rounds of chemotherapy over six months—the last on May 13—Berry was pronounced cancer-free on June 22. He and the Chiefs medical staff kept that news a secret, as he continued to gain strength and stamina.

Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder said the medical staff did extensive testing to make sure he was healthy enough to take on the rigors of training camp and full-contact drills. In late July, about three days before training camp began, Dr. Michael Monaco, an oncologist and cancer specialist, said Berry “can go back to his normal activity.” For Berry, normal activity meant running full speed into 200-pound men running full speed toward him, but all restrictions were off.

“That guy—he is built different. He is strong from the bottom up,” Houston said. “I don’t think he ever took any time off, even when he was going through chemo. He was always constantly working out. For a guy to be going through chemo and not stopping working out, you have to be real strong-minded to do something like that. You can ask him. The day I went to see him, I told him, ‘Just let me get the first book when you write it, because I know you’ll be back.’ I knew he would be alright.”

Berry thanked his parents for being there every step of the way during his recovery, and he thanked the team doctors for not brushing aside his complaints after the Raiders game last November. He says he’s “a lot wiser” after this journey, and he’s ready for whatever is next.

Berry was popular in the locker room before the cancer, but his status has been elevated upon his return.

“(He) just brings (electricity). It runs something through my body to just see him out there running around. It’s another energy he brings,” safety Ron Parker said.

Said rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, “(He brings) leadership and a whole lot of courage. He’s an excellent leader. We learn from him. If we need something, he’s going to give us the help that we need.”

Said linebacker Derrick Johnson, “Eric Berry is one of our leaders, personally, on and off the field. He’s a guy that’s going to motivate everybody when you look at him play, so we can’t wait to be out there on the field with him.”

Said rookie cornerback Steven Nelson, “He grew up in my home state of Georgia, so I used to actually go to his high school games. Being on the same field with him is a big inspiration.”

Said cornerback Sean Smith, “The impact he has had on my life has been ridiculous. I definitely look up to him; he’s an amazing guy. I could sit here for hours and tell you how great he is as a person. That guy’s spirit is ridiculous.”

Upon his return, the story quickly turned back to football. Coach Andy Reid wanted to take it slowly regarding Berry’s return to action, but Berry kept pushing. He played in the first preseason game, against the Arizona Cardinals/He didn’t record a stat, but that didn’t matter.

“He never had a thought where he was not going to play football,” Reid said. “My concern—I’m a dad and I deal with young guys here—was just to get him back to where he can function in life. But his thought was, ‘I got to get rid of it and I’m going to conquer this and I’m going to play.’”

Article by David Smale

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