Eric Berry became an inspiration for many when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma almost five years ago.

Eric was drafted in the first round, No. 5 overall, by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2010 NFL Draft. A two-time All-American at the University of Tennessee, Berry chose uniform No. 29 to honor former Tennessee defensive back Inky Johnson, who saw his promising career cut short due to injury, and for U.S. 29 Highway that runs through his hometown of Fairburn, Ga.

Eric’s diagnosis sent shock waves through the NFL — and especially in Kansas City. Obviously, fans were more concerned about Eric’s health than they were the loss of a superstar athlete, with prayers and good thoughts following Eric everywhere he went.

When Eric beat cancer and returned to the football field, he became an inspiration to those who suffer from the dreaded disease — hope that if he could beat cancer, so could they.

One of those people is Haley Byers. She is our niece.

Eric went through chemotherapy in the offseason and was declared cancer free when he returned for the 2015 season. He was named to the Pro Bowl, was an NFL All-Pro and the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

Not bad for a guy whose career came to a screeching halt and his thoughts no doubt went from statistics to his own mortality.

Haley, who turned 21 in early October, is currently undergoing chemo herself. She already is an inspiration to those around her.

Haley’s never-ending smile is infectious, and even back-to-back surgeries in the midst of what is surely the scariest time of her young life hasn’t stopped her cheerfulness. And she is living proof that a woman doesn’t need hair to be beautiful.

Her father, Charlie, and grandfather, Larry, recently had haircuts to match Haley’s.

My wife, Shelly — Charlie’s sister — recently purchased wrist bands that read, “Pray for Haley” on one side and the number “29” on the other — a tribute to one of her favorite players and likely her biggest inspiration at this point in time.

It’s a cliché, and a crude one at that, but cancer sucks.

I lost a friend and former classmate to cancer a few years ago. It seems everyone knows someone who is going through the painful, debilitating process of chemotherapy. Whether it’s friends or family, cancer sucks.

One thing, however, that cancer can never do is suck the spirit out of a person.

Eric Berry is a hero, but not for his exploits on the football field. He is an inspiration to many, like Haley, who are in the fight of their lives. And for every person who succeeds in beating cancer, the world has blessed us with one more hero — heroes like Haley Byers.

 

Sports editor Joey Sprinkle can be reached at jsprinkle@ctnewsonline.com.

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