© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Sports

Chiefs' Eric Berry In NFL Season Opener After Cancer Fight

Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry played his first regular season NFL game last weekend — just 10 months after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Other high profile professional athletes, such Mario Lemieux in hockey and Jon Lester in baseball, have recovered from lymphoma and resumed their careers. Berry’s quick comeback, he says, was completed through his will, and with the help of those closest to him.

Barry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma after he felt discomfort in a Chiefs road game at Oakland. Berry said he’s glad the Chiefs didn’t shrug off his concerns at the time.

“At first we didn’t find anything in the X-rays. The MRI showed some things,” said Berry. “It could have been so easy for them (the Chiefs) to say, ‘You’re okay, man, get back out there.’ But they did the proper protocol, the proper procedure and I’m so thankful for that.”

The Chiefs medical team detected the disease in its early stage, and in December, Berry began the first of six phases of chemotherapy near his home in Atlanta. He said it wasn’t easy in the beginning and it took some self-motivation early in the day.

“Today, I’m going to get out of bed. I’m going to make sure I get out of bed,” Berry recalled. “I’m not going to stay in bed all day because I would literally stay in bed all day. It was a tough process.”

Dr. Joseph McGuirk, as an oncologist who works at the University of Kansas Cancer Center, deals locally with Hodgkins lymphoma victims. He said a strong support system is vital, and feels Berry was surrounded by a top-notch team starting with his parents, James and Carol Berry.

“He had an extremely positive support system around him, which is important for all of our patients with cancer,” said Dr. McGuirk. “His mom was his primary cheerleader, I understand, and not many people can be a better cheerleader than your mom. She wouldn’t let anybody with negative ideas or suggestions in the house, which is a wise strategy.”

Usually mom’s cooking is the best, but Carol Berry yielded to her husband while their son underwent chemotherapy.

“It doesn’t bother me that he’s the better cook,” said Carol Berry. “He likes to cook, so I do everything else.”

James Berry said it was more than figuring out which spices to use. “It was like father-son re-connected again,” said James Berry. “I got to spend time with my son and talked about things we used to do when he was younger. Just spending quality time with him. In lieu of everything that happened, I think it was a very big moment for both us, really.”

Eric Berry said he had everything he needed to push through his recovery process.

“Between my mom and dad being in the trenches with me, everyday, day in and day out, and making sure that I had everything I needed from an emotional standpoint, physical standpoint, everything. That meant so much to me,” said Berry. “I think I would still be in the same state if I didn’t have them because without them I don’t know how I would have pushed through it.”

His father’s cooking helped Berry keep his chiseled 212 pound physique — he even gained a pound. Berry chose a non-traditional method of chemotherapy, which allowed him to exercise and work out vigorously with hopes of making it back this season.

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce witnessed Berry’s determination.

“I tried to keep up with him working out in the off-season,” said Kelce. “That guy is an absolute animal of a worker and it’s showing out here on the field.”

Berry completed his final phase of chemo on May 13 and was declared cancer-free the next month. Though the probability of a full recovery from Hodgkins lymphoma is favorable, Dr. McGuirk said he had a hard time containing himself when he watched Berry on the field in the season-opening victory.

“What can I say? Just a celebration of life and an inspiration to all of us about the human spirit,” said McGuirk. “I think that it doesn’t get better than that.”

When the Chiefs and Broncos square off Thursday night, James and Carol Berry plan to be at Arrowhead Stadium as Eric Berry’s biggest cheerleaders.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make non-profit journalism available for everyone.