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February 2001 Volume 4, Issue 3:
IMFer Profile
By Marv Hammerman
Roger Neilson, Head Coach of the Philadelphia Flyers
Roger Neilson, Head Coach of the Philadelphia Flyers

Roger Neilson, age 66, has been hockey coach at the highest level. He has been the Head Coach of six different National Hockey league (NHL) teams, most recently with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Roger ranks eighth in career coaching victories in the NHL. He lead the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals. Roger Neilson has multiple myeloma.

Marv Hammerman: Tell us about your first contact with multiple myeloma.

Roger Neilson: I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December of 1998. Because I was living in Philadelphia, I chose to be treated at Hahnemann Hospital, which is nearby. I have no family and I went through the treatment with help from friends. 

MH: What treatment did you receive?

RN: My treatment consisted of VAD and Decadron followed by a single autologous stem transplant. The VAD and Decadron were easier than I thought they would be but the chemo-therapy in the hospital was tougher than expected. I am now in remission and being checked regularly. I am also being treated with Aredia once a month and I am taking thalidomide on a regular basis. The cost of my treatment was covered by the medical plan of the NHL. The thalidomide alone is $980 per month.

MH: What has been the reaction from the public to your announcement of having multiple myeloma?

RN: I am not reluctant to talk about the disease to anyone. Some people who saw me during my treatment were shocked as to how I looked, due to loss of hair and weight. I received thousand of pieces of mail from all kinds of groups and individuals – church groups, people in factories and newspapers have sent good wishes. And the hair has come back thicker then it was before starting treatment!

MH: How has it affected your job?

RN: I feel that coming down with the disease might have been a large contributing factor to the loss of my job as the Head Coach of the Flyers. I also feel that it made it harder to get a new coaching job. After treatment, I contacted three NHL teams but none expressed interest. Then the Ottawa Senators of the NHL asked me to be an assistant coach and on August 2, 2000.  I accepted that position. I am now back in hockey, doing what I know and love.

MH: What has been helpful to you in getting through the myeloma treatment?

RN: There are three factors that have helped me the most. The first is confidence that I am getting good care. The second is the support I have received from many different people. And the third is my strong religious faith – I know that this disease is part of God’s plan for me.

MH: Speaking to Roger, one gets the feeling that his world is being put in order and he is confident of his future.

Editor’s Note: IMFer Marv Hammerman has interviewed and written about sports figures such as Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe, Vin Scully and Marty Glickman. To suggest a candidate for the next IMFer Profile, please contact Marya Kazakova at mkazakova@myeloma.org or (800) 452-2873.

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