The pain from a big hit in football couldn’t compare to the news Mitchell Meyers received earlier this year. The Iowa State redshirt junior defensive end was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma after feeling the sensation of someone grabbing his throat.
“It was just a surprise I had to let sink in,” Meyers said. “My parents weren’t there, so I had to call and tell them. That was probably the toughest part.”
Meyers, who is a nominee for the 2015 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award, has seemingly made dealing with the disease and its grueling treatments seem almost routine.
“The thing about Mitchell is it’s not hard to support a guy like him,” said ISU linebacker Luke Knott, one of Meyers’ roommates. “Even if he wasn’t going through this, Mitchell is still a guy you’re going to look at and try to replicate and look up to. He’s a leader who leads by example. … To see a guy like him come down with something like this and how he’s attacked — it almost takes him to the next level. It’s like, ‘Holy cow, I can’t believe this is happening to him and how he’s handling it.’”
Meyers is still receiving treatment at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, near his hometown of The Woodlands. He will receive a stem cell transplant and additional radiation, which will hopefully lead to him being done with his treatment altogether and returning to school by February. Meyers initially received chemotherapy treatments in Iowa from March to July, never missing a workout in the spring or the summer.
“It was definitely tough, but once I started, I was going to finish,” Meyers said of sticking to his routine. “There were definitely days when I didn’t feel like working out, but I made the choice and made a commitment to basically myself and my teammates that I was going to be there every day; I tried to stick to that as much as I could. I think they appreciated that I did the workouts with them. Hopefully, if anything, maybe I could inspire them to always remember things could always be worse than they are.”
No doubt, Meyers has been a huge inspiration to his teammates.
“He’s going through these chemo treatments and waking up at 5:30 a.m. in the summer every day to go work out,” Knott said. “There are some guys in our program and in programs across the world that can’t even make it to those 6 a.m. workouts when they’re fully healthy. The alarm clock is going off, and they’re clicking snooze one too many times. Just to wake up and think, ‘OK, I’ve got to get this workout in, even though I just had chemo.’ I’m sure if he could, he’d be going through chemo and suiting up on Saturday. That’s the kind of guy he is.”
The support system his teammates have provided has also been vital for Meyers. On what was supposed to be his final day of radiation treatment, the Cyclones were there to help him celebrate.
“We had workouts that morning,” Meyers said. “I did all of the workouts with them and then left to do my last round of chemo. When I was done, they do this thing where you ring the bell and celebrate. I turned the corner and they were all there. That was pretty awesome.”
Meyers was able to make it to a few ISU games this season, although watching from the sideline wasn’t easy for him after starting every game of the 2014 season. The team gave him the game ball following the season opener against Northern Iowa.
“It’s kind of hard to think about until you get diagnosed,” Meyers said. “I was really lucky that I handled the chemo as well as I did. I asked all the doctors and nurses what to expect. They said, ‘Everybody handles it differently, so we’ll just have to wait and see.’ I felt good enough to where I think I could have worked out with the team.”
Football has also provided Meyers with the single most important element of handling his situation with such determination and fervor.
“Everything we do in football revolves around mental toughness and fighting through adversity,” he said. “I think you take it for granted when you’re actually playing football because you think it just applies to football. Once I got diagnosed with this, everything I do – whether it’s a round of chemo or just being mentally drained – I relate it back to football in the sense that I’ve already experienced this stuff, one way or another. Whether it’s missing a tackle and getting back up the next play and erasing that from my memory… for me, the biggest thing is the mental toughness of football and transitioning that over into life.”