The Ballad of Joe Anoa’i

Last night, I was watching Monday Night Raw – yes, I watch professional wrestling, deal with it – and the first person on my TV screen that night was Roman Reigns.  Oh great.  Another promo to hype an upcoming pay-per-view.

But something was different about Roman Reigns’ appearance that night.  He wasn’t wearing his usual wrestling gear – he was dressed in a black T-shirt and street clothes.  His long, stringy hair was bound up in a man-bun.  And he looked … weary.

And then he explained everything.  And in that moment… Roman reigns had a mor4e important opponent to face than his upcoming match against Brock Lesnar and Braun Stroman.

Take a listen.

At first, as I heard Reigns speak, I thought he was performing a “work” – in wrestling parlance, a “work” is when the wrestler “works” the crowd into an unexpected emotion, such as cheering for a bad guy or booing a babyface.  But this wasn’t a work.  Reigns wasn’t finished.  He explained what had happened – After being diagnosed at age 22 with leukemia, he beat the disease into remission.  Now it has returned.  And now there’s more important things for him than wrestling on a pay-per-view.

It was time for Roman Reigns to become Joe Anoa’i, and to walk way from professional wrestling and heal himself.  He placed the WWE Universal Title on the ring floor, left the ring, and received hugs from his wrestling partners Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins.  Then he left the stage.

The announcers were completely shaken.  As the night began, they were hyping Roman Reigns’ upcoming triple threat match for the WWE Universal title in two weeks.  After Reigns left the stage, WWE announcers Michael Cole, Renee Young and Courey Graves were offering prayers and condolences and words of encouragement.  Graves kept saying, “Get well, Uce,” using the Samoan term for brother.   Renee Young also offered her thoughts and prayers, as she lowered the curtain on the fact that she is married to Dean Ambrose, and that Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns spent six years rising from independent and developmental wrestling territories to the biggest stage in pro wrestling.  Even Michael Cole, the lead announcer and one of the best ring-speakers in the business, knew that this wasn’t some cockamamie angle designed to evoke sympathy for Reigns or to portray him as someone who would use cncer as a wrestling gimmick.

NOTE: I had misheard Corey Graves’ message to Roman Reigns as “Get Well, Zeus.”  My bad.  The above paragraph has been corrected.

Lewkemia is an insidious bastard.  It does not discriminate and it can attack young and old, rich and poor, black and white, male and female.  Even a man as massive as Roman Reigns – a 6’3″, 265 pound former football player who stands toe to toe against men taller and heavier than he and still wins each match – can get this type of blood cancer.

When I was a kid, leukemia was considered a death sentence.  Heck, there were a TV drama about a man who was told he had two years to live, yet he tried to stay alive as long as he could.

But here’s the thing.  Research in cancer treatment has turned leukemia from a death sentence into something that can be fought.  I know people who have survived leukemia, who have forced it into remission, who have lived longer post-diagnosis than they have pre-diagnosis.

It’s one of the reasons that I recently made a donation for a charitable fundraiser that provided skin care products to chemotherapy patients, to help preserve their soft skin against the harsh chemo treatments.   You help where you can, when you can.

What I’m saying right now is that leukemia is still a very vicious and diabolical enemy.  This isn’t a wrestling villain that can be defeated with the help of a Superman punch and a steel chair to the back.

This will take treatment and care and exercise and support.  Not just from doctors and from family, but also from friends.

With that in mind, if you are able to help – whether it’s for Roman Reigns or for anyone else you know or don’t know who is currently battling leukemia, lymphoma or any other blood cancers – I’ve provided a link to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s webpage.  The link is here.  Please donate if you can, no matter how much or no matter how little.

Let’s make this happen.

You got this, Zeus.  Time to appreciate being Leati Joseph Anoa’i, husband and father and – hopefully – leukemia survivor.