Each of the six finalists for the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2016 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 18.
University: Iowa State University
Vitals: 6-4, 260-pound senior defensive end
Quick Hits: A native of The Woodlands just outside of Houston, Texas, Meyers was a three-star recruit who quickly turned into a contributor for the cyclones. … Played in all 12 games in 2013 after a redshirt freshman season in 2012. … Became a starter in 2014 and was one of only four Cyclones to play all 12 games. He started at DE, but later moved inside and registered 30 tackles. … Was a First Team Academic All-Big 12 in 2013 and 2014. … 2015 Capitol One Orange Bowl FWAA Courage Award Finalist.
During the offseason in preparation for the 2015 season, Meyers noticed his neck was swollen. It felt like something random, and Meyers could not figure out why his neck was swollen. He figured it would just go away.
INSIDE THE STORY
Meyers waited a few days to see what would happen with his swollen neck. Not only did it not go away, the simple swelling increased to the point where it felt like “somebody had their hand on my throat, like somebody was choking me.”
A trip to the team doctor yielded a series of tests and X-rays to rule out some possibilities. But Meyers could tell after his chest X-ray that the Iowa State football team doctor was concerned, and Meyers knew right then something was wrong.
Eventually a CT scan revealed Meyers did indeed have Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He didn’t even know what lymphoma was, and had to be told it was cancer of the lymph nodes.
To Meyers it was such a stunning diagnosis because he figured a swollen neck did not mean you had cancer. In his mind, if you had cancer you were sick or ill.
THE RARE JOURNEY
Once diagnosed, Meyers started a chemotherapy treatment every other week that lasted nearly six months. Although limited to a degree by the chemo treatments, it did not stop Meyers from continuing to work out with his teammates during spring and summer workouts.
He never missed a workout and continued to get ready for the 2015 season. Upon completion of his chemotherapy treatments, dozens of Meyers’ teammates and coaches showed up at the hospital to help him celebrate.
The second phase of his treatment protocol has been more difficult for Meyers. He returned home to Texas for radiation treatments and also had to undergo a stem cell transplant. It was the same treatment protocol former Oklahoma offensive lineman Austin Woods endured three years ago. Woods was also a finalist for the Rare Disease Champion Award.
Woods later returned to the Sooners team and played his final year. Meyers knows about Woods’ story and is hoping to take the same path and return to Ames later this year to start training to get back on the field for the 2016 season.
His battle has been a galvanizing force for the Iowa State team, and on a rare trip back to Ames during radiation treatments the team presented the game ball to Meyers after the victory over Northern Illinois.
WHAT THEY SAID
“Seeing what he’s gone through, it’s just such an inspiration. It reminds you to stay humble and that you could always have it worse.” – Cyclones WR Allen Lazard
“You talk about admiration. You talk about respect. He’s one of our leaders anyway, and one of our hardest working guys on the team. And to do it on top of chemotherapy treatments … that just takes him up to a whole other level in the eyes of his teammates. It doesn’t leave them much room for excuses as they go about their daily business.” – Former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads
“My neck was swollen and it felt like someone had their hand on my throat. I didn’t think I needed to go to the doctor. I mean, how do you fix a swollen neck? The trainers suggested I should go to the doctor and they took a chest X-ray. I knew something wasn’t right when they came back with the results. I then went to the emergency room and got a CT scan. That’s when they told me it was lymphoma. I was stunned. I said, ‘Could it be anything else?’” – Mitchell Meyers