Victory Over Adversity

By Jeremy Peplow - January 21, 2024

In the world of professional sports, we often celebrate the athletes who make headlines with dazzling performances and incredible feats. But behind every successful team, there are countless individuals working tirelessly behind the scenes.

Brad Berlin, 57, has been a fixture in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization for almost a decade. As the equipment director, Berlin is responsible for the team’s gear and equipment. From organizing logistics, transportation and setup of everything from helmets and pads to jerseys and cleats, his team makes sure the players have everything they need to perform at their best. His dedication and commitment to his role in the organization have earned him the respect and admiration of team owners, players, coaches and fellow staff members.

Troubling Test Results

At the end of the 2019 season, the team prepared to go into the offseason with a goal to rebuild and make a run at the postseason. Berlin took part in a routine, end-of-season physical offered to all Buccaneers employees. Initial blood results were flagged for abnormal protein levels. The team doctor recommended Berlin get follow-up labs with his primary physician.

On March 11, COVID hit and locked down the team facility.

“The last thing I was going to do was go sit in a Quest lab during COVID trying to get a blood draw,” Berlin recalled. “So I didn’t do it. I put it off, put it off, put it off.”

When the Buccaneers staff resumed in-person operations in July, Berlin submitted follow-up blood work. A week later, Berlin was at Moffitt Cancer Center for a bone marrow biopsy.

The Diagnosis

As the Buccaneers prepared for a new season with high hopes after signing Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Berlin was dealt the devastating news of being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that develops in plasma cells in the bone marrow and accounts for roughly 1% of all hematologic malignancies globally.

For a man who had spent his life taking care of others and ensuring their success on the football field, the diagnosis was a sudden and unexpected blow.

Berlin and Family
Brad Berlin became a grandfather in 2022 while undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma.

Further testing revealed a secondary diagnosis of amyloidosis, a rare condition in which the abnormal proteins of multiple myeloma accumulate in the heart. This condition can lead to the stiffening of the heart muscle, impairing its ability to pump blood effectively.

“I couldn't take a flight of steps without having to stop and catch my breath. Thirteen, 14 steps, and I feel like I just ran a marathon,” Berlin said. “So I knew something else was going on.”

Four days after the Buccaneers lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the 2022 divisional playoffs, Berlin began chemotherapy treatments and specialized therapies to manage his amyloidosis. 

“That was the hard part for me, just letting go, but my wife, Molly, convinced me that health is way more important than any job,” Berlin said.  “But I was stubborn in the beginning and didn’t want something affecting my body to affect my employment.”

Berlin continued his normal routines and work schedule with the Buccaneers during his treatment. 

Brad Berlin and wife Molly at an infusion appointment at Moffitt.
Berlin and wife, Molly, attend an infusion appointment at Moffitt.

“The team, the players and the owners all supported me during this whole thing, and they’ve been great,” Berlin said. “They told me the team is going to be here. The team’s going to progress through the season and function day to day. You go take care of Brad.”

Claiming Victory

After two years of oral chemotherapy and injections, two bouts of COVID and pneumonia from a diminished immune system and countless visits to meet with his doctors at Moffitt, Berlin received the news of complete remission.

The good news came just two days after the Bucs claimed the NFC division title and prepared for their fourth straight year of making the playoffs.

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"Remarkably, he was able to get here without a bone marrow transplant."

- Dr. Brandon Blue, Malignant Hematology Program

“He’s doing great, treated aggressively and got great results,” said Dr. Brandon Blue, a malignant hematologist at Moffitt. “Remarkably, he was able to get here without a bone marrow transplant.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have lost their NFC divisional round game against the Detroit Lions 31-23, but Berlin made sure the team had all of the equipment they needed on the road down to the last detail. It’s the same attitude he takes in facing his own adversity.

“Cancer’s strong and cancer wins a lot of the time,” Berlin said. “But the fact that I survived it and beat it, I claim that as a victory, but you still got to be humble about it.”

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