After a star collegiate career at Tennessee, where he was a two-time All-American and recognized as the best defensive back in the country, Eric Berry joined the Kansas City Chiefs as the 5th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Berry led the team in interceptions his rookie year and was selected as an All-Pro. An ACL injury eliminated his 2011 season, but he returned for two more All-Pro years in 2012 and 2013.
A Troubling Diagnosis: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
After a November, 2014 game against Oakland, Berry complained of chest pains. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma , a form of cancer, on December 8, 2014 after doctors discovered a lump in his chest.
With the support of his teammates, friends and family, Berry underwent a series of chemotherapy sessions – every other week from December through May – to meet the disease head on. He moved back to Atlanta to be with family and to be treated by Dr. Christopher Flowers at Emory Hospital.
Berry experienced an allergic reaction to one of the first drugs administered and knew he was in for a formidable challenge.
Chiefs’ reporter BJ Kissel noted,
“One of the toughest moments we had was during breakfast one morning,” Berry’s father, James, recalled. “It just hit him. He was just sitting there and all of the sudden he got all teary-eyed and was like, ‘Wow, man, I have cancer.’ And then he started looking ahead like, ‘What if I’m not going to be able to do this or if I can’t do that?’
“I sat there and we just cried together, but I told him, ‘You’ve got to take this one day at a time. We can’t look ahead and say what the future holds. We just have to fight it the best way we can every day. I told him if you want to cry, then cry, if you want to be sad, then be sad, you can’t be everything to everybody. This is the time now for you to look after you.” (Read More)
Continuing Workouts Through Chemo Sessions
The treatments were physically draining, but Berry continued to workout to ready himself for the following season. Think about that. He’s being treated with chemotherapy sessions and he continues his workouts.
“According to Flowers, Berry elected to get all of his chemotherapy treatments through separate intravenous injections, or IVs, in his arms, not through the standard method of delivery, a so-called PICC line, which leaves a catheter in the body between treatments. The catheter is generally preferred because neither patients nor medical providers want to deal with needles and vein-punctures at each visit. But the problem for Berry, Flowers said, is that the catheter comes with a prohibition against heavy lifting—anything more than 10 pounds or a “heavy bag of groceries.” That just wasn’t going to work for Berry.”
Berry leaned on his family for support:
“It was a tough process, but I had a great support system,” he noted, “Between my mom and dad being in the trenches with me every day—day in and day out—and just making sure I had everything I needed from an emotional standpoint, physical standpoint, everything.
“That meant so much to me.”
He also began working out with his Chiefs teammates.
Great News: Berry is Cancer-Free
In June of 2015, after medical tests, it is announced that Berry is cancer-free.
“I was just at a loss for words, I was so excited,” he later said. “I think the biggest thing, I was just happy that I made that journey with everybody that was close to me. I think that was the best part about it, because when you’re lying there, there were many times when I was like ‘Man, I don’t know if I’m going to wake up tomorrow.’ I’d just be up thinking, scared to go to sleep. Then there would be a point where I would just be like ‘Forget it, I’m going to sleep. If I don’t wake up, I don’t wake up.’ The thing about it, just going through it, with the people that’s close to you, you don’t think about material things, you don’t think about things like that. You think about the experiences you have with the people close to you.
At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Making it through that journey, even though it was difficult, I got some of my best memories out of that whole process. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. I was just so thankful to go through it with the people around me.”
Berry started with very modest goals after his chemo sessions., like completing five push-ups. And, a new session, would frequently wipe out any gains he had made. But, Berry persisted, and the hard work paid off.
A Triumphant Return to Play
Berry returns to work and reports to training camp for the Chiefs in St. Joseph, Missouri in late July. In August, 268 days after being diagnosed, he plays his first game (a preseason match-up against Arizon) since discovering the cancer.
In December of 2015, it’s announced that Berry earns his fourth Pro Bowl appearance, and in January, Berry is notified that he’s the winner of the Walter Payton Man of the year Charity Challenge. Bolstered by the Chiefs’ 10 game win streak at the end of the season, Berry also wins the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year for 2015. The Chiefs won their first playoff game in some 22 years with Berry notching three tackles and a first quarter interception.
Berry Strong Video
Eric Berry: An Inspirational Story
“To be honest with you, I think it will mean a lot for the people who followed my story—the people who are going through things and fighting through something like cancer,” Berry said upon winning the award “I just wanted to show those people anything is possible and that you can’t let anything come between you and your dreams.
“As long as somebody sees my story and is inspired, I think that was my main goal going through everything that I went through…just being strong for people who couldn’t be strong for themselves.”
Eric Berry’s “Fear Nothing, Attack Everything” Approach
His approach to address cancer – “Fear Nothing, Attack Everything” – also works effectively on the field of play.
Berry continues to stand out on a very strong defensive squad. With 59 solo tackles and four interceptions, Berry is a leader of the Chiefs’ secondary. In a tough game against the Falcons a few weeks ago in Berry’s hometown of Atlanta, Berry had a pick-six early in the game, and an extra point interception return which accounted for the winning score.