After almost two weeks of testing at Emory University, doctors announced that the mass shown in Chief’s’ safety Eric Berry’s MRI was Hodgkin’s disease (also called Hodgkin’s lymphoma). He will begin “standard chemotherapy approaches” to treat the disease, said Dr. Christopher Flowers, director of the lymphoma program at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute.
In a statement released through the Chiefs, Dr. Flowers said “The goal of Mr. Berry’s treatment is to cure his lymphoma and we are beginning that treatment now.” However, Flowers didn’t offer a timetable or a prognosis for Berry’s recovery.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system that represents about eight percent of all diagnosed lymphomas and, according to the National Cancer Institute, over 9.000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with it this year. Due to medical advancements over the years, the survival rate has increased to over 80 percent.
Berry thanked the Emory University School of Medicine and Dr. Flowers and his team, and said, 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.”
Originally feeling discomfort in his chest during the team’s November 20 loss to Oakland, the pain persisted through the next day. He immediately went through a series of tests that included a CT scan as well as the MRI that showed the mass in his chest that night. Berry shared the news with his teammates a few days later prior to leaving for treatment in Atlanta.
The bad news for the Chiefs is that they’ve lost both of their games since Berry was put on the season-ending non-injury list. That makes their chances of making the playoffs. With a 7-6 record, the Chiefs have games against the Raiders, Steelers and the Chargers yet to play and Pittsburgh and San Diego are still possible for the playoffs.
Berry has received lots of support from family, friends, other NFL teams and his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, whose football team wore helmet stickers honoring him in a recent game. The Chiefs have designed a shirt bearing the slogan, “Be Bold – Be Brave – Be Berry” and Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians wore one of them in the Cardinals’ game against the Chiefs. The shirts are being sold online and proceeds are going to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
“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.”
This isn’t the first time Hodgkin’s lymphoma has struck the sports world. In 1993 it was Hall of Fame hockey player Mario Lemieux who received this diagnosis at the pinnacle of his playing career with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He missed about two months to undergo radiation and other treatments and then took a leave of absence. He eventually returned to the Penguins to finish out his playing career. Lemieux went on to found the Mario Lemieux Foundation that funds medical research projects and supports a number of other organizations, including the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.
Another athlete with Hodgkin’s lymphoma was Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He was successfully treated with chemotherapy in 2008 and just this past season was voted to his first All-Star game.
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