2017 Rare Disease Champion Finalist: Mitchell Meyers, Iowa State

Each of the finalists for the 2017 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2017 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page.

meyers-action-1MITCHELL MEYERS

University: Iowa State University

Vitals: 6-4, 255-pound senior defensive end

Quick Hits: Came to Iowa State from Texas as a three-star recruit and after a redshirt season became a starter in 2013 as a redshirt freshman. … Also was a starter in 2014 as a redshirt sophomore and was one of only four Cyclones to play in every game that season. … A three-time First Team Academic All-Big 12 selection (2013, 2014 and 2016). … Was a Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award Finalist in 2015. … Earned the Bill Dailey Unsung Hero Award for Iowa State in 2014. … Was voted a team captain by his teammates for the 2016 season. … Graduated with a degree in supply chain management. … Wore No. 58 his final year. Since 2014 a lineman at Iowa State takes over the No. 58 jersey in honor of a beloved former ISU coach who passed away suddenly.


Mitchell Meyers had positioned himself to become a big-time contributor for the Cyclones football program after his 2014 redshirt sophomore season.

He was a two-year starter who had played defensive end and also spent some time playing inside. So he was versatile, experienced and still had two years of college football to look forward to.

During the off-season, a swollen neck escalated into what Meyers described as a feeling of being choked. That led to a CT scan and eventually a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February of 2015.

That was the start of an 18-month journey for Meyers where playing college football again was always on his mind, but his priority had to be fighting off his rare cancer and getting healthy.

Meyers kept his eye on playing again, but he knew he was a different player. The toll of the fight would have an impact. But it didn’t slow him down. Once he returned to campus, Meyers went to work re-building his body. Being cleared to play was not guaranteed, though.

And if he was cleared to play, which eventually came just prior to fall camp, a spot on the field would have to be earned with a new head coach and staff in place.

Meyers not only earned a starting spot after 18 months away from the game, he played all season at defensive end registering nearly 30 tackles. In his words, his final year as a college football player “went above and beyond” his expectations.

His wasn’t the road most travel, but in the end Meyers did it his way. He came back to play football his senior year, not just to be a story.


Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. For the Iowa State football program, the long and winding journey with Hodgkin’s lymphoma for recently graduated Mitchell Meyers is one that will stand the test of time.

What started as a swollen neck during the off-season, Meyers remembers waiting for it to just go away, became a full rare disease diagnosis in February of 2015.

The first phase of treatment was chemotherapy every other week for six months. Instead of shrinking or going away, the cancer actually grew after the first round of treatments.

Meyers lost 20 pounds, his hair fell out and he faced a second demanding round of treatments knowing he was in for a battle. So he returned home to Texas and put academics and football on hold.

He went through a second round of treatments and it appeared the cancer was gone. But it wasn’t, so he endured another five rounds of chemotherapy.

In December of 2015 Meyers received his first clean PET scan and it was worth celebrating. But he still had one final phase of treatments to complete.

Early in 2016 he underwent a stem cell transplant, the next step in his journey, and spent three days in the hospital. Another clean PET scan allowed him to finally begin radiation treatments.

He returned to Ames, Iowa in the spring and most of his friends and previous teammates had graduated and were gone.  There was a lot of change around the Iowa State football program.

Naturally, Meyers, wondered where he would fit in.

A change in the coaching staff from Paul Rhodes, the coach who recruited him, to Matt Campbell would present another challenge for Meyers. But he was told there would be an opportunity and the rest was up to him.

Deep down, even though he knew he wasn’t the same player physically, his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma had not robbed him of his muscle memory.

After missing two spring practices and a full season, Meyers was cleared for full contact just prior to camp. He wasn’t at the top of the depth chart, but he answered when opportunity knocked.

During camp, the new coach, Campbell, and his staff happily recognized that post Hodgkin’s lymphoma Meyers still excelled and they welcomed him as a starter for the 2016 Iowa State Cyclones at defensive end.


“Battling cancer is a lot like playing football. Obviously the implications are a lot bigger battling cancer. But you learn a lot about mental toughness playing football. It helped me a lot to get through what I went through, and vice versa.” – Mitchell Meyers

“This young man that had this upbeat spirit about himself going through this, and it can put you in your place really fast. One of the best stories in college football.” – Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell




3 thoughts on “2017 Rare Disease Champion Finalist: Mitchell Meyers, Iowa State

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