As Eric Berry approached the microphone before a gaggle of reporters, cameras and lights, he wasn’t alone, a symbol of the collective effort it took to defeat cancer.
His mother, Carol, and his father, James, were right behind him, and flanked Berry as he fielded questions Wednesday about his eight-month battle with Hodgkin lymphoma.
As courageous Berry has been in his battle against cancer, he couldn’t do it by himself.
Berry is the first to acknowledge that.
“My support system just took care of me, starting off with my parents and my friends and family, everybody,” Berry said. “From the coaching staff, whole Chiefs Kingdom, Vol Nation, my home back in Atlanta, Fairburn, Ga., it’s just been great, man.”
That network of family, friends, teammates past and present and others throughout the NFL helped reinforce Berry’s spirit, even on days his chemotherapy treatments weakened him to the point he didn’t want to get out of bed.
Berry said he received inspiration from ESPN sportscasters Stuart Scott and Robin Roberts and their battles with cancer. Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who beat leukemia two seasons ago, advised Berry about the specific challenges of beating cancer.
“He would text me and say, ‘Look, they’re going to do a bone marrow biopsy, this is what you need to be prepared for, this, this and this,’” Berry said. “And he had me prepared for a lot of things I wasn’t aware of.”
Between deflated footballs, domestic violence charges and all of the negative light the NFL has come under in the past year, Berry said he hopes the public can recognize the efforts of the league in supporting him in his fight.
“There’s so much stuff that goes on in the NFL people like to talk about that’s kind of negative on the other side. I felt that was something that was really cool because I felt like the whole NFL family came together, and they did a lot for me,” Berry said. “Just to see them come together for a good cause, and just to motivate me and show they were thinking about me before big games and things like that, it meant a lot.”
When it was announced Tuesday night that Berry was cleared for football activities, a flood of well-wishers from across the league and football ranks offered their congratulations on Twitter, using the hashtag #BerryStrong, which served as the public’s recognition and support of Berry’s battle.
Before a game against the Broncos on Nov. 30, the first game after Berry’s diagnosis, the Chiefs wore “Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Berry” T-shirts during pregame warmups. In January, team chairman Clark Hunt and general manager John Dorsey visited Berry in Georgia, and said Berry “looked great” and was in “great spirits” at the time.
Berry’s Chiefs teammates constantly reached out to him, whether it was a text from quarterback Alex Smith or linebacker Justin Houston flying to Georgia after a game to spend time with Berry before his next chemotherapy session.
Whether it was Berry’s dad cooking him three meals a day or his mom posting positive-thinking notes throughout their home, Berry’s family not only guided him throughout the process, but encouraged him to get back on the field, he said.
“Throughout my whole comeback, trying to workout through all this,” Berry said, “they were right there along with me through the whole process, and pushing me to get back on the field.”
Berry’s family also had to cope throughout his diagnosis and treatment. Carol Berry found solace by talking with other NFL players’ mothers.
“I had a couple of rough moments,” Carol said. “And unfortunately, because of being a mother of an NFL player, people don’t realize what you go through — the downside, the things that happen. I had a great support group. Not only my friends, I had the NFL moms.”
Carol’s confidence in her son’s recovery soared, to the point she was so unfazed by his comeback that she took a snooze during Wednesday’s practice, where Berry donned a white No. 29 Chiefs jersey for the first time in 251 days.