Texans' John Metchie feels '110 percent' in return from leukemia

From his vantage point at world renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center while undergoing treatment for leukemia, John Metchie and his fellow patients could look out the window from a high floor and see NRG Stadium a few miles away.

It was a symbolic moment for the Texans wide receiver. He was in the fight of his life, battling a treatable form of leukemia calle acute promyelocytic leukemia. While the former Alabama star wondered if he would play football again, he could see where he wanted to go a few miles away, back to the game he loves.

Metchie experienced the gamut of emotions, including doubt. Ultimately, his faith and determination brought him back to the game and he has looked outstanding at training camp as he builds his role within the Texans’ offense after missing his entire rookie season last year on the non-football illness list.

“Yeah, I’m not going to sit here and say no,” Metchie said. “The beginning stages, of course you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what the future has in store for you. You, of course, hope that you can overcome it and play football. But I would say in, probably in the beginning stages, there might have been some doubt. But I’ve had a strong faith, I had a strong faith then, and I have a strong faith now.”

And Metchie wondered and prayed and thought deeply about a lot of things, including whether he would make it back from this medical ordeal. What was going to happen to him? Would he ever regain his health and his old life?

“I guess an answer to tie into that is faith, right?” Metchie said. “One of the most curable forms of cancer, but very tough at the beginning. So, I was very blessed and grateful to have one of the most curable forms of cancer. As you saw, I didn’t lose my hair and a lot of stuff like that. So, I was very grateful and very blessed for that, but at the very beginning of it when you’re diagnosed, it’s a very tough part.

“It’s the most critical part and I think all of that was just my faith. You can only rely on your faith in those situations. In situations where you are forced to be faced with your own mortality, you see what it is you really believe in and who it is you really believe in. So, my faith in God is really what kept me comfortable in a belief that this was all for a greater purpose and a bigger reason.”

And now Metchie, 23, a native of Canada who attended high school in the United States in Maryland and New Jersey before earning a football scholarship to Alabama and whose family originally moved from Ghana, is soaking up every moment. Back on the football field, back to running sharp routes and catching passes, Metchie is an inspiration to his teammates, coaches and his fellow patients and doctors.

“I can’t go into names because we’ll be here all day, but a majority of the people who had a huge impact on me were people that I met in MD Anderson during that time, whether it was patients, the janitorial staff, the nurses that were there with me every night and my doctors, but mainly patients,” Metchie said. “I think they’re definitely a countless number of people that come to mind that really impacted me and gave me a lot.”

From the start, Metchie, a second-round draft pick last season, has displayed a positive attitude and an infectious personality. That inspired teammates, including Jalen Camp, to do his trademark celebration, the Karate Kid crane kick, after a touchdown in a tribute to Metchie. 

“John Metchie’s demeanor, it hasn’t changed,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “He’s the same. He’s consistent, he’s positive, he’s a hard worker. Whenever he’s out here at practice, he’s giving everything he has. You’ll see him after practice doing extra, just trying to perfect his craft, so excited with his mentality, and his work ethic is just cool to see.”

Metchie hosted a group of patients and staff from MD Anderson at NRG Stadium last fall. He was their host and it was a moment he’ll never forget. Those relationships, that bond, are unique for Metchie.

“Yeah, it was very special,” Metchie said. “I had a group of those people that I was talking about here and they had a great time. It was a big day for all of us just because every day at MD Anderson, we used to be up there and see the practice facility and the stadium from there, so it was cool that we were finally able to be here – have a different perspective. It’s definitely something I hope to do again and keep that group going.”

“The biggest thing I took away was just show up and fight. We kind of understand and take for granted life and everything we have to do or get to do during a day, but then when it’s taken away from you, whether you’re young or old in the hospital, you kind of realize that people see clearly what’s important to them and who’s important to them, right? Their family, their life, regardless of what they were complaining about or what stresses you have, you realize that the biggest gift you have is your breath and your heartbeat.”

Metchie leaned heavily on his faith, his family, his friends, the Texans, Alabama coach Nick Saban and his former college teammates.

He was initially diagnosed after dealing with cold symptoms and a recurring headache.

According to medical journals, APL is a “unique subtype of acute myeloid leukemia with cells in the bone marrow that produce blood cells (red cells, white cells, and platelets) that do not develop and function normally. APL begins with one or more acquired changes (mutations) to the DNA of a single blood-forming cell. APL cells have a very specific abnormality that involves chromosomes 15 and 17, leading to the formation of an abnormal fusion gene PML/RARα. This mutated gene causes many of the features of the disease.”

Now, he’s back to his old self. Perhaps even better.

“Yeah, I feel 110 percent, actually,” Metchie said. “Over the year, I feel better than I did. I feel better now than I ever did in college, and I feel better than I was when I got diagnosed, like before I got diagnosed. I feel 110 percent for sure.”

It was a difficult experience for Metchie, though. Especially emotionally. His family was in Canada.

“There are a lot of challenging things that challenge you spiritually, mentally, physically,” he said. “But the most challenging part was just dealing with it with my family being in a different country for the most part. They would come down, but most of my loved ones were in a different country.”

Metchie has shined at training camp so far while catching passes from C.J. Stroud and Davis Mills. He caught 96 receptions for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior at Alabama in 2021, but tore a knee ligament in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Dec. 4, 2021. He’s preparing to play in his first NFL game next Thursday against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium..

“It was just gratitude,” Metchie said about how it felt to run on the practice field with his teammates at camp after being sidelined in the spring with a strained hamstring. ““I was really grateful that I was just able to come out here and start playing the game I love again worry-free. I’m just able to play ball and not have to worry about much, just playing ball.

“I always feel like I’m comfortable. I beat the toughest battle and now living and being me is kind of just to be free and be confident in myself and my body of work and who I am. So, of course there’s a learning curve of learning to play this game with the team and chemistry and all of that. But as far as comfort in myself and my game, I have that completely.”

There’s a tradition at MD Anderson Cancer Center of ringing the bell when a patient is cancer-free. Metchie will never forget that feeling.

“That moment was special,” Metchie said. “It seemed to be more special for the people around me, but it was extremely special for me just because – when you get diagnosed and you’re in the hospital – you don’t really have an end clock. The best you can really do is just take it day by day and stack brick by brick. So, you’re not really looking too far down the road when you’re there.

“The other patients and I, we’re just worried about winning our fight every day. When it got to the end, you kind of look up and you’re like, ‘Damn, we’ve accumulated a lot of treatments and a lot of days.’ And that’s kind of when you start thinking about it, but I think going into that day, it was kind of the same thing for me – I was just winning the next day.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

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