If cancer picked a fight with Chiefs’ Berry, it picked wrong guy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Oh, cancer. You just picked a fight with the wrong guy.

Head to YouTube.com, type in the words "Eric Berry" and "hit," and more than 16,000 videos pop up — highlight after highlight of the Kansas City Chiefs’ safety laying out the kind of wood you find in a Home Depot.

There’s Berry in college at Tennessee, turning SEC hammers such as Knowshon Moreno and Ben Tate into giant piles of Silly Putty. There’s Berry, now wearing No. 29 with the Chiefs, as a rookie in 2010, dropping Philadelphia speedster DeSean Jackson during a preseason collision like the guy was a bad habit. Berry lowers a shoulder, Jackson does the same coming off a screen, and No. 10 gets up kind of woozy; most clips show him leaving the game a short while later.

"I just took a little hit, and there was a sharp pain that went through my back," Jackson told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. "It wasn’t too serious. They just held me out because it was too close to the regular season."

So lymphoma has a face.

And it’s a face that hasn’t lost a staring contest yet.

"At first I was in shock with the diagnosis on Saturday and did not even want to miss a game," said a statement released by the Chiefs’ All-Pro safety, who Monday night was headed to Atlanta after team officials announced they’d discovered a "mass" on the right side of his chest — a mass they suspect is lymphoma. "But I understand that right now I have to concentrate on a new opponent. I have great confidence in the doctors and the plan they are going to put in place for me to win this fight."

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The Chiefs (7-4) have a battle on their hands Sunday night, entertaining the division-leading Denver Broncos (8-3) at Arrowhead Stadium.

Eric Berry has a bigger one.

"I’ve said it once (Monday)," Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters late Monday afternoon. "And I’ll say it a bunch of times — that this is about Eric."

Berry felt discomfort in his chest Thursday evening, during a soggy, stunning 24-20 setback at Oakland. An MRI on Friday showed a mass within the right side of his chest, trainer Rick Burkholder explained at a news conference. Burkholder said doctors were "75 percent" on a definitive diagnosis, but wanted to get him to specialists at Emory to perform a "biopsy on the lymph nodes or the mass."

The Georgia native was placed on the non-football injury list, ending 2014 after six games, a star-crossed campaign for one of the franchise’s defensive stars that started with ankle problems and ended in shock.

"You put the Oakland Raiders to the side for this period here, and you put Denver aside for this period here," Reid said. "Football isn’t as important as him getting himself better at this present moment. And that’s the way the players approached it today, and we will move on because that’s how life goes. But we will move on with his spirit in hand."

Amen. Amen, amen, amen.

Football is a game — a livelihood, sure, but a game, nonetheless. This is serious business: Lymphoma is a cancer that develops in the lymph nodes and lymphatic system and can form tumors in the immune system. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, in which tumors develop from a kind of white blood cell known as lymphocytes, is the most common form (90 percent of cases) of the disease; Hodgkin lymphoma (10 percent of cases) is the other main type.

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The five-year survival rate for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the National Cancer Institute, was 69.3 percent from 2004-10. For Hodgkin lymphoma cases tracked over that same period, the survival rate was 85.3 percent.

So the odds are in Berry’s favor. The road isn’t. Hodgkin lymphoma can be treated with radiotherapy — whose side effects can include permanent sunburns, fatigue, diarrhea and hair loss — but in advanced stages, it needs systemic chemotherapy.

"There were some guys who were obviously shocked by the information," Reid said. "We’re really just a microcosm of life, is what we are in this building. And a small family — maybe a big family, you could say. So you have the support, people standing up, and they work through the emotional part of it, support each other, and most of all, support Eric."

From social media, support for No. 29 came from every corner of the Twittersphere — teammates, former teammates, rivals and even media:

Of course, perhaps the best word, the final word, came from Burkholder:

"I believe that I am in God’s hands and I have great peace in that," Berry’s statement continued. "I know my coaches and teammates will hold things down here the rest of the season and until I am back running out of the tunnel at Arrowhead. I am so thankful and appreciative of being a part of this franchise and playing in front of the best fans in the NFL. I will be back!"

And nobody doubted it for a minute. Least of all the bodies left in Berry’s wake, a chain of tackles that bridge three Pro Bowls.

"He’s a beast," Reid told reporters. "And right now, he needs to be a beast."

Some things are bigger than Peyton Manning. Some people, too.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.