WWE star Roman Reigns is stepping out of the ring to treat his leukemia, but when will he be back? A blood cancer specialist EXCLUSIVELY answered that question to HL.
It was painful to watch Roman Reigns, 33, place his WWE Universal Championship belt on the mat during Monday Night Raw on Oct. 22. The wrestling superstar renounced his title after revealing the return of his leukemia, which had been in remission since 2008. What else will Roman, whose real name is Joe Anoaʻi, have to sacrifice during his fight against the blood cell cancer? Dr. Joseph Alvarnas, a doctor and administrator who specializes in leukemia and other blood cancers at City of Hope, a clinical research center in California, spoke EXCLUSIVELY with HollywoodLife to discuss the different types of leukemia and how they’d affect Roman’s career. Here’s how long you may have to wait for a match in which Roman can win back his relinquished title.
“It’s very tough to determine when Roman would be able to return to wrestling after treatment,” Dr. Alvarnas told us. “There are so many factors that go into that and when people are treated for acute leukemia, their normal blood count and immune system may be compromised.” It turns out that there are two types of leukemia, and although Roman’s specific diagnosis hasn’t been announced, one could especially put his career on a longer hiatus. “There are acute leukemias which are aggressive that are treated with much more intensive combinations of chemotherapy, and may also be treated with a marrow or blood stem cell transplant as a way of building upon chemotherapy and getting a greater outcome,” the City of Hope doctor explained to us. As for why a marrow transplant would be needed, leukemia hinders the bone marrow’s ability to produce red blood cells and platelets due to a surplus of white blood cells, according to the American Society of Hematology.
“The other kind of leukemias are chronic leukemias which tend to be somewhat less aggressive and are treated with either chemotherapy or some targeted anti-cancer medications which can control the leukemia,” Dr. Alvarnas continued. “So the idea of Roman getting kicked or hit while wrestling would be hard to imagine for someone going through treatment or even during the recovery phase.”
Touching on the “stages” of chronic and acute leukemia, Dr. Alvarnas clarified, “For chronic leukemia there are stages, for acute leukemia it’s more about getting information about the genetics or genomics which may help understand how to get the best treatment and how did tailor that treatment to his condition specifically.” To break that down, Roman’s treatment could look different from another person battling the same cancer, should it be classified as aggressive. “It’s about understanding Roman’s type of leukemia in particular,” Dr. Alvarnas pointed out. With that said, Roman could be looking at “a year or more” until he’s “able to return to normal activities.” However, the wrestler shared that he “very quickly” put his first round of leukemia in remission at the age of 22. As Dr. Alvarnas explained, “It’s all based on how they respond to therapy or a transplant.”
So, what can the beloved WWE icon do to improve his illness in the meantime? There are actually “three things,” which Dr. Alvarnas listed. “First, he can find the best care that he can, working with a doctor who is an expert in the field. Because patients with leukemia require very special care. Care mixed with expertise makes a big difference,” the oncologist shared. “Second, he can be cautious and lower the risk of infection, or when platelets are low reduce the risk of trauma.” And the third step may surprise you. “Third, treating leukemia is not just about giving medications to treat the person, it’s a human experience and really making sure that he stays grounded, surrounded by people that care for him and support him,” Dr. Alvarnas advised. Judging by the explosion of #ThankYouRoman tweets that surfaced from the WWE community, Roman can already check off the doctor’s third piece of advice. It’s not a step to be taken lightly, as Dr. Alvarnas emphasized how crucial Roman’s support system is.
“He needs to be surrounded by people who sustain him during this rigorous time, even more rigorous than when he’s wrestling,” the doctor continued. “Having that moral support and community support around him really makes a huge difference. Whether we’re treating leukemia or other types of cancers, that is a human experience. We may use medicine and technologies but this is about a person, it’s always about a person.” Roman doesn’t want your pity, but he did encourage “prayers” when he broke the tragic news. He’s positive he’ll be “whoopin’ leukemia’s a** once again,” as he declared in the video above.
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