From WWE Wrestler to Cancer Fighter — Kids Inspired by Roman Reign’s Leukemia Battle

WWE Wrestler Roman Reigns (real name Joe Anoa’i) announced last week that he would be relinquishing his Universal Championship title because he has leukemia and will need to take a leave of absence to undergo treatment.

In an announcement during Monday Night RAW, Anoa’i said he was first diagnosed with leukemia at age 22 – but after treatment, his disease quickly went into remission. Now, 11 years later, Anoa’i said the cancer is back. During the emotional announcement, Anoa’i said even though he is taking time off from wrestling, his fans should expect his return shortly.

“I want to make one thing clear, by no means is this a retirement speech. Because I have faith,” said Anoa’i. “After I’m done whooping leukemia’s ass once again, I’m coming back home. I’m coming back because I want to show all of you … that when life throws a curveball at me, I am the type of man that will stand in the batter’s box, I will crowd the plate, I will choke up and I will swing for the fences every single time.”

Anoa’i’s speech touched a lot of people – the RAW crowd answered with tears, a standing ovation and “Thank you, Roman” chants. Well wishes have been pouring in for the wrestler throughout the week, from other wrestlers and fans. An especially sweet message came from the kids of Children’s Health in Dallas.


Anoa’i recently visited the children’s hospital during a WWE Make-A-Wish event. The kids shared sweet well wishes, calling Anoa’i a hero and letting him know that he’s not alone in his cancer battle.

“We’re with you, Roman,” said one little girl, who introduced herself by her wrestling name, Cadence the Diva Destroyer. “We got you, and we love you.”

“You are my hero, you got this, Roman,” said a young boy, who said his wrestling name is Jacob, the open heart hound.

Anoa’i didn’t disclose what type of leukemia he has, or what kind of treatment he will be undergoing. Leukemias are cancers that start in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. When these cells become leukemic, they stop maturing properly and grow out of control. Eventually, they spill into the bloodstream.

“Leukemias in general impair your normal blood elements’ ability to do all the things they’re supposed to do,” said Dr. Nicole Lamanna, a hematologist and oncologist at Columbia University Medical Center. “If you have leukemia, it’s in your bone marrow and the blood flows everywhere, you need to either be treated for the leukemia or you don’t. That depends on the specific type of leukemia you have … this happens to be one of those cancers where you don’t necessarily need treatment right away.”

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