Chiefs

Tests confirm Chiefs safety Eric Berry has Hodgkin lymphoma

Even before his cancer scare, Chiefs safety Eric Berry was wearing an orange wristband, the color for leukemia awareness, with the words “TEAM BRICE” on it to show support for 12-year-old Brice Eidson.
Even before his cancer scare, Chiefs safety Eric Berry was wearing an orange wristband, the color for leukemia awareness, with the words “TEAM BRICE” on it to show support for 12-year-old Brice Eidson. The Kansas City Star

The test results for Chiefs safety Eric Berry are back, and they revealed what the team originally feared two weeks ago: The 25-year old has lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.

More specifically, Berry has Hodgkin lymphoma, which accounts for about 10 percent of lymphoma cases and is considered to be highly curable.

“This is a diagnosis that is very treatable and potentially curable with standard chemotherapy approaches,” said Christopher R. Flowers, director of the Winship Cancer Institute lymphoma program at Emory University in Atlanta, where Berry is being treated.

“The goal of Mr. Berry’s treatment is to cure his lymphoma and we are beginning that treatment now.”

Lymphoma is a group of cancers of a part of the immune system called the lymph system. The cancers fall into two main types, Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. According to cancer.org, the five-year survival rate for patients with Hodgkin lymphoma is 90 percent for those in stage one and two, 80 percent for stage three and 65 percent for stage four.

At this point, it is unclear what stage Berry’s form of cancer is in. But Sid Ganguly, director of the lymphoma and myeloma program at the University of Kansas Hospital — which assisted in Berry’s initial round of tests — said the stage will depend on how far the cancer has spread.

“If it is only localized to his chest, then the likely outcome is excellent,” Ganguly said. “But even if it has spread elsewhere, with modern chemotherapy, at his age, almost 75 to 80 percent of patients in the long term are cured.”

If it has spread, Ganguly said, Berry could be looking at six cycles of chemotherapy over the next six months. But even then Ganguly is optimistic.

“I’m very, very hopeful it will turn out to be OK,” Ganguly said, adding, “Hopefully by next season, he will be playing football again.”

To beat the disease, however, New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich says Berry will need to keep a positive attitude throughout his chemotherapy treatment. Herzlich beat Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in 2009.

“It wears you down for sure, whether you come out victorious or not,” Herzlich said. “But the one thing you can control is how much it wears down your attitude. Whatever treatment you have, it’s going to be painful, leave you fatigued and leave your immune system down, so I learned you’ve gotta keep on doing the stuff I learned as an athlete to keep my body in line.”

Berry, who is from Fairburn, Ga., is being treated at Emory largely so he can fight the disease with his family at his side.

Berry’s spirits apparently are high. He released a statement Monday, vowing to beat the disease.

“My family and I are very grateful for the amount of support we have received over the last couple of weeks,” Berry said. “I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate all the words of encouragement, the blessings and well wishes.

“I want to thank the Emory University School of Medicine, along with Dr. Flowers and his team, for all of their hard work and effort in diagnosing and creating a plan for me to battle this thing. I will embrace this process and attack it the same way I do everything else in life. God has more than prepared me for it. For everyone sharing similar struggles, I’m praying for you and keep fighting!”

Berry left the team after playing in the Chiefs’ 24-20 loss to Oakland on Nov. 20, after which he complained about discomfort in his chest. A weekend of testing discovered that Berry had a mass in the right side of his chest, and trainer Rick Burkholder said lymphoma was the “leading consideration,” though more tests were needed.

Berry becomes the latest professional football player to have his career interrupted by a cancer fight. Houston Texans offensive tackle David Quessenberry, 23, is fighting non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which was diagnosed in June. He, like Berry, is on the season-ending non-football injury list.

Herzlich fought cancer before his senior season at Boston College and returned to football in 2010, making 65 tackles. He wasn’t picked in the 2011 NFL Draft but latched on with the Giants as an undrafted free agent. Over the past four years, Herzlich has made 119 combined tackles in 55 total games.

“It took a while to get my strength and flexibility back to where it was,” Herzlich said. “But the farther away I got from treatment, the more comfortable I was with my own body. Now I’m able to go out there and do whatever is needed on a high level.”

Berry’s teammates would like nothing more, as the organization has rallied around him the last two weeks. The Chiefs’ gametime jackets have been emblazoned with a patch bearing his number and, during pre-game warmups, many players have been wearing white T-shirts with the slogan “Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Berry” across the front and Berry’s name and number across the back.

The shirts, which were designed by Chiefs players, are available for purchase at the Chiefs Pro Shop in Arrowhead Stadium. The shirts are also available online at shop.kcchiefs.com. They are $20.

According to the Chiefs, 100 percent of the proceeds received by the team and the NFL from sales will be directed to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer research and treatment.

Berry also received an outpouring of support from around the league, as AFC West rivals Oakland, Denver and San Diego have all posted messages from their official Twitter accounts.

But you won’t find a place where Berry is more missed than in the Chiefs’ locker room.

“Whatever we need to do to really be behind him, we’re gonna do it, that’s for sure,” quarterback Chase Daniel said. “Guys in this locker room, Chiefs Kingdom, we’re behind Eric Berry 110 percent.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TerezPaylor.

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