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Football

Mitchell Meyers gives thanks while facing cancer

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 AMES —  Mitchell Meyers began the conversation by giving thanks.

 He expressed deep appreciation for family, teammates, coaches, doctors, nurses, fans and random people flung across the country.

 "It’s not just Twitter, it’s letters in the mail," said the popular Iowa State defensive lineman, who is almost three months into chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosed in February. "They don’t have to do that. So to take time out of their day to come in contact with me, I really appreciate it.”

 Meyers, a junior from The Woodlands, Texas, spoke publicly for the first time since the diagnosis. He told a group of reporters he’s actually gained a little weight since starting chemo. He’s completed five of 12 bi-monthly treatments. He’s still working the bike, still running, still lifting — obviously at a much less strenuous level than before, but he’s still going strong. 

 Why expect anything else?

 "I’m not the first guys that’s been through this," said Meyers, who despite a shift from end to tackle in 2014 was one of four on the Cyclones’ D-line to start every game. "There’s been other guys and I expect my recovery to be similar to the other people who have been through this."

 So far, he’s on target. His prognosis is excellent. His appetite’s hearty — both in real and philosophical terms.

 "I spoke with the oncologist this morning and we’e anticipating a full and complete recovery, which is not unusual with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma," ISU’s team physician, Dr. Marc Shulman, said. "We hope to see him back on the football field as soon as his body tells him he’s ready to go.”

 That’s the key: listening to his body. Meyers said he hopes to play this season — after wrapping up chemo and then undergoing radiation treatment back home in Houston.

 If he remains on schedule, he’ll be done with all that during the first week of fall classes. That makes the prospect of playing in 2015 appear extremely unlikely, to put it mildly, but he’ll be ready whenever the full stamp of approval arrives.

 "I’m hoping it to be this season, but if not, definitely next season," Meyers said. "There’s no way to tell, but I will play football again."

 In the meantime, the workouts continue. He’s surrounded by teammates and coaches — plus his mom, who makes the trip from Houston for each chemo treatment.

 "For her to travel up here every two weeks for my treatments is a big deal to me,” Meyers said.

 Meyers said the level of support he’s received from close friends, loved ones and total strangers has verged on overwhelming:

 *ISU athletics director Jamie Pollard — who returns to full-time work Monday after undergoing and recovering from open heart surgery — immediately called him and his parents after he was diagnosed.

 His words of wisdom: Pick the hospital and healing environment that feels right for you. Maintain your focus on what makes you most comfortable.

 "That was another reason I stayed in Ames, because the experience I’ve had at McFarland Clinic has just been very personable compared to going to a big facility where you’re just a number," Meyers said. "He really just gave some advice to my parents and gave some words of encouragement, so we appreciated that."

 *Encouragement came from the eastern side of the state, as well. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, Meyers said, sent a message of support — and offered another example of why some things transcend on-the-field rivalries.

 "That’s another thing, I’ve had Iowa fans write me letters saying, ‘I’ve always been an Iowa fan and I hate the Cyclones, but the fight against cancer, we’re all in this together.’ it’s really encouraging. It kind of unifies the whole state.”

*It unifies more than that. Meyers said a couple of Big 12 coaches have reached out, as well. Among many other correspondences, he noted that a Texas Tech fan sent a heartfelt dispatch from Lubbock brimming with positive vibes.

 "He went through the same thing I did maybe eight years ago," Meyers said. "It was encouraging to hear his story — and I like hearing other people’s stories because it makes you feel like, ‘OK, I’m not the only one. I’m not going to feel bad for myself."

 That — self-pity — was never an option for Meyers. He said upon hearing the diagnosis, "shock" set in briefly, then was overcome by a stronger emotion. 

 "A couple days later it really sets in and you say, ‘OK well, what’s the treatment plan? How do I fix this?’ So there’s never a time when you’re going to crawl away and hide from it. The only thing to do is go through the treatments. That’s all you can do.”

 Meyers wondered how he’d tell his parents. He finally called them about a half hour after being diagnosed, worried more about how they’d take the news from afar then how he would face it head on here.

 "You don’t worry about yourself," Meyers said. "You worry about your parents and your brothers. I can do this thing. I can handle the physical aspect. It’s the mental aspect with my family. So it’s definitely tough to see what they go through, too, but I think they’re doing OK as well.”

 So is he. Meyers sought out examples of other football players who surmounted cancer and returned to the field.

 He didn’t have to look far for one: Austin Woods of Oklahoma, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in spring of 2014 and played the 2015 season with the Sooners.

 "Obviously he’s doing well now," Meyers said. "it sounds like he did really well during his treatments and I’m hoping I can do just as well.”

 So far, so good. 

 "He remains upbeat and positive in his approach, which should surprise nobody who has ever come in contact with Mitchell," Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said in a statement. "He recognizes that he has a long road ahead. A journey that he is not traveling alone."

 Not by a long shot.

 Meyers said in the lead up to treatments, he went in for tests. That meant no food for several hours. One of his roommates, quarterback Grant Rohach, joined him in the hospital room. 

 Their first post-testing thought? Food. And then — for Rohach anyway — a nap. 

 "How were we going to eat?" Meyers recalled them saying. "So they gave us menus (at the hospital) and we asked how much it was going to cost and they said, ‘No, it’s free, don’t worry.’ So me and him both got steaks and milkshakes and then he fel asleep. So I was sitting in a hospital bed and he was just sleeping on the couch."

 Meyers smiled at the story. Support comes in many ways, both near, far and wide. He will never take such essential aspects of life for granted again. 

"It’s not until you’re challenged with an obstacle like this where you realize how important everybody is to you," Meyers said. "Going through something like this alone would be a lot tougher than going through it with your teammates.”

R

Rob Gray

administrator

Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.

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