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Berry takes field after battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — After getting beaten up by the toughest opponent he ever faced, Eric Berry woke up every morning with one goal in mind.

“I wanted to do five pushups,” the Kansas City Chiefs safety said on Wednesday. “Sometimes I couldn’t do them.”

There was a happy ending to Berry’s battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma this week, as the Pro Bowl safety was cleared to practice with the Chiefs as they open training camp at Missouri Western State University. He was on the field Wednesday morning with rookies and first-year players that constituted the first practice of this year’s camp.

Just a bit more than eight months after it was discovered there was a mass in his chest and then the diagnosis of cancer that followed, Berry ended what he called a “roller coaster” of emotion that he rode through six months of chemotherapy. On June 22, his oncologist at Emory University in Atlanta declared him cancer free and able to resume working toward getting back on the field.

Berry went to Florida and did two-a-day workouts for the last month, before heading to Kansas City where the Chiefs’ medical and training staff put him through four days of testing, covering everything from bone density, to orthopedic testing, with strength testing and evaluation of his heart and overall health.

“He sailed through every test we gave him,” said head trainer Rick Burkholder. “Our doctors were pleasantly surprised by his numbers.”

In a strength test earlier in the week, Berry pumped out five squats at 325 pounds and five reps in the bench press at 275 pounds. Not bad for a guy that had moments when he couldn’t do five pushups at a time.

“It was exciting to be out there practicing today,” said Berry in a press conference where he was flanked by his mother and father, with head coach Andy Reid, general manager John Dorsey and quarterback Alex Smith sitting nearby.

“The two things I could control were my attitude and my effort. Every day I just tried to build off what I did the day before. That’s the only thing you can do in that situation. You can’t look too far ahead, because I did that at the start and ended up crying to my dad for about 30 minutes.”

Berry called the last eight months “a battle every day” as he underwent chemotherapy and tried to maintain at least some of his physical fitness.

“It got to the point where I had to set goals like just getting out of bed; there were days where I would literally stay in the bed all day,” he said. “Without what my parents gave me, I don’t know that I could have made it through this.”

Here’s the timeline of the last eight months of Berry’s life:

–Nov. 20: After the Chiefs’ 24-20 loss to the Raiders in a Thursday night game in Oakland, Berry feels a great deal of discomfort in his chest. He reports that to the training staff and once the Chiefs returned to Kansas City, more tests were ordered.

–Nov. 24: The Chiefs announced that Berry had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and had left the team.

–Nov. 26: Berry began sessions with doctors at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta.

–Dec. 10: He received his first chemotherapy treatment.

–May 13: Berry completes the chemo, completing the six-phase regimen. “He came out of the other side of chemo a pound heavier than we he went in,” Burkholder revealed.

–June 22: His doctors in Atlanta, led by oncologist Dr. Christopher Flowers, says he’s cancer free and able to return to his normal activities.

–July 29 — Berry takes the field for the Chiefs’ first practice of camp.

“Amazingly 247 days later, I’m standing before you and telling you he’s practicing,” said Burkholder. “It’s truly a remarkable thing in our business, in this sport and life.”

Reid could not hide his smile about getting one of his best defensive players back and healthy.

“We will see where he is at,” Reid said. “If he goes through individual (drills) and then works into team work, that’s OK. We’re just going to see how he feels and get feedback from him so we can see exactly where he is at. We are not going to force him into anything and try and be as smart as we can with it.”


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