There is a hill that overlooks one of the Chiefs’ two practice fields at Missouri Western. At the top of that hill, the media — comprised of writers, television cameras and photographers — is stationed under a tent.
This setup, as you might imagine, encourages photographers to focus on the field directly in front of them, in hopes of getting the best shot. But on this overcast Wednesday, there was not one camera focused on the action straight ahead.
Instead, all were pointed toward the distance — way over to the far field — to capture the return of No. 29 in white, safety Eric Berry, who made his triumphant return to practice only eight months after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
It was a sight that fans, players — as evidenced by the mountain of Chiefs who tweeted well-wishes Berry’s way on Wednesday — and even coaches had been waiting to see for months.
“Come on, it was awesome,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said with a grin. “I think it was awesome for the fans, (but) more so for him. His parents were sitting up there, too. I’m sure they had a little juice going, too. That was pretty spectacular.”
Indeed, Berry’s parents — Carol and James — were also positioned on the hill, under a neighboring tent. For two of the people most responsible for assisting Eric through his battle — he underwent chemotherapy in Atlanta, near his hometown of Fairburn, Ga. — it was especially satisfying.
“To see him out there today,” James said, “it was touching.”
Berry maintained a training regimen throughout his six sessions of chemotherapy, which started Dec. 10. Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder said Berry recently weighed in 1 pound heavier than he did when he started chemotherapy.
“Between Eric and his physician, they decided to not do a traditional route of chemotherapy administration, which is used through what we call as a pick-line or a port or a central line, so that the IV would be in his arm and then into a major vein in his heart,” Burkholder said.
“He opted to have IV’s every time that he got the chemotherapy. That was so that he could work out, which is an interesting concept most patients don’t have.”
The decision made his treatments more intense.
“I already had my mind set where I wanted to work out, (so) I went ahead and got the IV’s,” Berry said. “It was probably more dangerous than having the port. I’m glad I made the decision, but it was rough. Just having the feelings in my fingers and my veins are totally just all out of whack right now. The medicine is very hard, so it did a little damage to my tissue, but it’s fine now.”
Burkholder said that once Berry was declared cancer-free on June 22 they put him through a battery of tests — including bone density, orthopedic and cardiac — to make sure his body could handle physical activity.
Berry also had a series of strength tests and benched 275 pounds five times and squatted 325 pounds five times.
“He sailed through every test that we gave him,” Burkholder said. “Our doctors — I’ll speak for them and tell you — they were really, pleasantly surprised with his numbers. We were as well.”
But while Berry was with the team on the field on Wednesday, he did not participate in the team portion of practice. Berry will be at practice Thursday, but he will be off on Friday. Reid said that is standard procedure for veterans.
“He looked pretty good out here (Wednesday),” Reid said. “We’ll keep a close eye on him. One of the things that Eric and I talked about was just being honest with us about how you’re feeling out here, and sometimes that’s hard for a player to do, especially with his makeup, but he’s been great with that up to this point, and I think that will continue here.”
Reid was cautious about placing any expectations on Berry, whose status will be reevaluated after Thursday’s practice. However, Reid knows that Berry’s presence alone will provide his team a boost.
“We know he’s a great player,” Reid said. “I’m sure he’ll be back to that ... his emotion, Justin (Houston) kind of picked that area up last year and took off with it. And now you add Eric back into it, he’s got a little juice, (which) he brings to the mix there.”
In Reid’s world, the word “juice” essentially means energy and enthusiasm. Berry has that in spades, which is why it’s hard to call his victory over lymphoma — and his return to the practice field on a gloomy-turned-sunny Wednesday — much of a surprise.
“That’s a part of me,” Berry said. “I have two cancer survivors in my family, my aunties. They’re some fighters. They’re some warriors. I had to do it, regardless of this football thing. I just felt like I had to come back the best I could.
“It’s a fight, it’s a battle every day. Sometimes, you feel like you just can’t do it any more. But you just gotta keep fighting because there’s always gonna be light at the end of the tunnel. Just because it’s a cloudy day doesn’t mean the sun’s not shining. The sun is shining behind the clouds, regardless.”