WrestleMania’s Defending Champion Roman Reigns Talks About Smacking Down Cancer

By Nikki Ross Inda - April 11, 2021

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the World Wrestling Entertainment, internationally known as the WWE, had fans April 10-11 at Raymond James Stadium for WrestleMania 37

image of WWE star Roman Reigns
WWE Two Time Universal Champion Roman Reigns shares his cancer journey with Moffitt team members

But days before the main event, two WWE superstars took time out to virtually meet health care heroes at Moffitt Cancer Center. Universal Champion Roman Reigns (Joe Anoa’i) and fellow wrestler, rapper and comedian R-Truth (Ronnie Killings) came out sparring!

“No rules on the table!” said R-Truth.

Photo of WWE Star R-Truth
WWE Superstar R-Truth, known as the 24/7 champion, helped to support his friend Roman during difficult times while battling cancer

“That’s debatable,” quipped Reigns.

Both superstars have personal ties to cancer that made the meeting even more meaningful.

In 2008, when life seemed perfect, Reigns at the age of 22 was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML. It sent shock waves throughout the sports and entertainment world. Reigns comes from a family with a prestigious history in the WWE (father, brother and cousins) who also found success in the wrestling industry. Dwayne Johnson, known as The Rock, calls Reigns a cousin due to their close family ties. They both share a rich Samoan heritage.

Reigns quickly went into remission but in October 2018, the disease returned.

“It was two different scenarios as to where I was in my life, during my first initial diagnosis,” Reigns said. “It was scary, you know, because I was just a young man. I still feel that way sometimes. I had my whole life ahead of me, so many different goals, things that I had not completed at that point. I felt like I was still on my way to work and at that portion, I felt like I had a giant asterisk next to my name and I wasn’t going to be able to carry out the things I wanted to do.”

In February 2019, Reigns announced he was in remission again and he was coming back.

“Thank God everything played out the way it did, but yeah, I mean it’s been challenging, but I always feel very fortunate, as you know. I think of all the cancers, the process of blood cancer, where we are with research and the development of the medications, it really puts us ahead of the eight ball and it allows us to continue to still live very full lives and carry out our dreams,” Reigns said.

Moffitt team member Kara Zupancic with WWE Superstar Roman Reigns
Moffitt team member Kara Zupancic had plenty of questions for WWE Superstar Roman Reigns

Cancer also hit close to home for R-Truth when his sister was diagnosed with the disease.

R-Truth and Reigns played off each other as if sparring in the ring during their time with Moffitt team members. They traveled together often for work, pre-COVID, and are friends outside of the job. R-Truth’s comedic-style persona had everyone in stitches, particularly Moffitt systems analyst Jennifer Voegler, who works in the cell therapy vaccine lab.

She asked, “What are your favorite foods?”

“Pancakes, the IHOP kind!” he said. He also couldn’t resist eating sushi when he arrived in Tampa for WrestleMania 37.

For Strategic Communications account coordinator Patrick Carragher, meeting both superstars was a dream come true. He’s been a WWE fan for as long as he can remember. He collects anything he can get his hands on.

Moffitt team member Rafael Cardona with Roman Reigns
Rafael Cardona, a medical interpreter in Moffitt's Language Services Department, is a long time WWE fan

“I was very fortunate earlier in my career as a sports reporter to interview a handful of professional athletes, so I try not to get star-struck but I couldn’t help myself today. Living in Tampa I’ve run into a lot off WWE superstars around town at a pharmacy, coffee shop or hardware store, but I never go up to talk to them because I don’t want to bother them when they’re out trying to live their off-screen lives. My wife and I keep a running tally of who we’ve seen and where. Her list is much more impressive than mine! But to be able to sit down and have a conversation with them was something I’ll hold special for a long time,” Carragher said. He cheered at the top of his lungs alongside thousands of excited fans at WrestleMania 37!

So how does the enormous responsibilities of Reigns, R-Truth and other WWE superstars play out in this iconic business, wrestling in front of fans from all over the planet? And how does it connect to the roles we have as team members at Moffitt?

“Roman and R-Truth discussed their training and commitment to their jobs as entertainers, and what they do outside the ring every day to prepare. Our jobs at Moffitt is like the training and commitment necessary for Moffitt team members to do our jobs,” said research scientist Dr. Rob Rounbehler.

But Voegler may have said it best. “Millions of fans rely on Roman and R-Truth for inspiration, an escape from reality and entertainment. They both positively impact and improve so many peoples’ lives. As Moffitt employees, we are all involved in the mission to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer regardless of our role here. Millions of patients and their families depend on each member of our team to provide unparalleled, compassionate and innovative care in all that we do.” 

 

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