WWE favorite Roman Reigns stunned the wrestling world in 2018 when he revealed that he’d been diagnosed with leukemia for a second time. The star immediately left the ring to fight the disease he’d first battled ten years previously. And in 2020 he returned to the spotlight to give fans another unexpected update.
Reigns was in a very different place when he was initially told he had the condition back in 2008. Then just 22 years old, the star was plying his trade in the Canadian Football League following a triumphant spell with Georgia Tech. He’d also recently become a father for the first time with the birth of daughter Joelle.
“I didn’t really have anybody,” Reigns told People magazine in 2019. “I didn’t think it was anybody’s fault, I just had my wife [Galina Becker], who was pregnant at the time. My mom, just the kind of mother she is, she was my rock. She was my support system doing all the worrying and all the praying, and it felt like I was a little bit on an island.”
Moreover, Reigns wasn’t afraid to admit that he’d been extremely frightened during this period. “It was a crazy transition to be a young man at 21, 22 with all the responsibilities being thrown on my shoulders,” he added. Fortunately, within just 18 months, the future wrestling hero was in a state of hematologic remission.
Then, a year later Reigns was at the stage of molecular remission. However, the man born Leati Joseph Anoa’i told People that his challenges hadn’t ended there. “Unfortunately for me, it was a hard process,” he revealed. “I felt I had a huge asterisk next to my name. There were always questions like, ‘Is he okay?’”
Ultimately, though, Reigns’ near brush with death inspired him to grab life by the horns. Indeed, in 2010 – just two years after his diagnosis – the star managed to land a contract with the WWE. Reigns went on to become one of the decade’s biggest wrestling stars, picking up each of the franchise’s main awards, including the Grand Slam.
A complete unknown during his first battle with leukemia, Reigns was able to keep his illness a secret from the wrestling world for eight years. However, when it returned in 2018 the star was left with no option but to make things public. In October that year, Reigns revealed to the ring-side audience and WWE Raw viewers at home that he was suffering from the condition for a second time.
The shocked audience heard Reigns say, “I’m not going to lie, I’ll take every prayer you can send my way. But I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking for you to feel bad for me, because I have faith.” Reigns also stated that he would overcome his illness, declaring, “By no means is this a retirement speech.”
Reigns was overwhelmed by the response to his shock revelation. “I have kind of been a polarizing character in our storylines and our industry, and our fans are passionate,” he explained to People. “They are passionate and vocal and will let you know what they are feeling and thinking. So, I was nervous because this was something I kept with just me and my family for years.”
Nonetheless, wrestling fans couldn’t have been more supportive. “Even in this crazy world of social media and negativity, and opinions and critiques, everybody dropped that,” Reigns continued. “They dropped their opinion whether it was bad, good or indifferent. They were just trying to help out, and the fact that everybody rallied behind me and gave me that support, I’ll never be able to say thank you enough.”
During his chat with People, Reigns also revealed that he, too, was left blindsided by the news of his leukemia returning. “This was just totally not on my radar,” he admitted. “I felt good. I was tired, but I was running one heck of a schedule. Little did I know, it was happening to me again and my body was reacting and my blood was changing.”
Reigns largely kept out of the spotlight over the following four months. However, he was spotted watching a game at his old stomping ground, Georgia Tech. And he even found the energy to make a brief appearance in Hobbs and Shaw, the Fast and Furious spin-off starring another WWE legend, The Rock.
In fact, The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson, just happens to be a cousin of Reigns. The Hollywood star isn’t the only member of Reigns’ family with a wrestling connection, either. Reigns’ father is Sika, one half of the iconic tag team The Wild Samoans. And his brother Rosey, who tragically passed away in 2017, also made a name for himself in the WWE.
Thankfully, just a few months on from him telling the world about his illness, Reigns returned to WWE Raw to share some much more encouraging news. As the audience shouted his name in unison, the wrestler stepped in the ring to reveal that he’d entered into remission. And he was keen to thank fans for their support.
“I said I was going to swing for the fences,” Reigns began. “We did better than that, y’all. We didn’t just swing for the fences. We hit a home run. So when I tell you this, I’m so grateful and so humbled and so honored to announce this. The good news is, I’m in remission, y’all. So with that being said, the Big Dog is back.”
Reigns also stated that he wanted to give something back now that he was in remission. As well as helping to increase the public’s knowledge of cancer, he planned to “support those who are in need just like I was,” too. Nonetheless, Reigns was keen to point out that he still had ambitions to add to his haul of WWE championship titles.
In fact, the wrestler wasted little time in making sure he was fit and ready to return to the ring. “The moment I started feeling better, I started working out, getting back to training, trying to pull my mind away from being on the shelf – on the sideline and out of work essentially,” he told People. “I just focused on my return.”
“And when the time was right, I knew my oncologist and the WWE doctors, they would give me the proper clearance to get back into the ring,” Reigns added. Moreover, his behind-the-scenes team appeared to believe that one of the wrestling world’s flagship events was the ideal opportunity to return. What else but WrestleMania!
Indeed, Reigns was given the go-ahead to compete in the 35th edition of the world-famous event. He told People, “There is nowhere like WrestleMania when you have that many people – I think we’re at over 80,000 people again – that type of emotion from that many people is incredible.”
“For me, to be able to see all of that culminate after a full year of hard work, all these guys and girls that came together to put on this product for a full year, no offseason – it makes it even more special,” Reigns continued. “And it’s pretty amazing.” Moreover, in his first solo bout after announcing his WWE return, Reigns triumphed over Drew McIntyre.
Later that same year Reigns once again opened up about his cancer battle in an interview with Leukaemia Care. He told the organization that he wants his fans to know that the illness isn’t the death sentence he once thought it was. “I think there is ignorance of leukemia,” Reigns said. “The word alone is intimidating. ‘Leukemia’ – it sounds like a cancer word. It sounds like it could take your life. What people haven’t realized is the different phases.”
“That’s the whole thing about me and this huge WWE platform, that’s why I want people to know,” Reigns added. “I want people to understand that it’s not what people see in the movies. We’re in a different place now; we are making advancements. There are things we are doing to help people and save lives – we just don’t always concentrate on those things.”
And Reigns wants to serve as an inspiration for leukemia sufferers. “We don’t want to discuss the good moments or ‘the wins,’” he explained. “With my story and the help of my medication, and the medical breakthroughs that we have, I think it’s very important to understand that. We are winning some of these battles. There are very specific reasons why I am maintaining the look and the health that I have, and it’s important that people know that.”
Reigns also found inspiration during his own cancer battle. He commended younger leukemia sufferers for being able “to be so new to this world and to be able to take on so much darkness, to be able to continue to focus on the light when you’re going through the clouds.” He also promised to tell their tales and give even more hope to those affected by the disease.
After the subject turned to his medication, Reigns revealed, “I take an oral chemotherapy. I don’t have to go in for radiation. The analogy I use is that I went to war, but I didn’t shoot my gun. We’re all different and we all have our own journeys. I’m not going to belittle my story or be ashamed of it just because I didn’t suffer as much as the next person.”
Reigns admits that he’s now in a lucky position compared to many others. “I’m very fortunate for how my life has turned out, and the struggles that I’ve met and thankfully conquered,” he continued. “I’m good where I’m at and I don’t need anything worse to prove anything to anybody else.”
Reigns also spoke of how he tried to remain resilient during his cancer battle for the sake of his daughter. “She’s always looked at me as a personality of strength, as someone who can go and do these crazy things and get the family where we need to be,” he said. “I didn’t want to take that perspective away from her. I wanted to continue to be that real-life superhero.”
At the time of the interview, Reigns and his wife Galina, with whom he walked down the aisle at the end of 2014, already had daughter Joelle and twin sons. The latter arrived a couple of years after their parents’ wedding. And in 2020 the wrestler announced that his family unit would soon be welcoming another two members.
Yes, incredibly, Reigns told Muscle and Fitness that he was due to become a father to another set of twins later that year. When asked about being a dad to three kids, he replied, “Three with two in the oven, so I’m looking to be papa bear five.” Reigns then told the magazine that he’d just given them an exclusive.
Muscle and Fitness went on to question Reigns about whether he’d allow any of his children to follow in his footballing footsteps. The wrestler answered, “It’s probably best that they don’t play too early. As they get older and they get more coachable, you can really explain the different techniques of hitting and how to protect yourself.”
Reigns also joked about how being older means you’re more equipped “to make those judgment calls of, ‘Nah, Coach, I’m not good. I need to pop out. Send in Sammy real quick, ’cause I need to go to the sidelines.’” And just a month after the interview, Reigns proved that he himself knew when he needed to call time out.
Indeed, following the birth of his second set of twin sons, Reigns decided it was time to take some paternity leave. As a result, the wrestler announced that he was withdrawing from his billed bout for the Universal Title at WrestleMania 36 against Goldberg. Braun Strowman took Reigns’ place and ended up winning the belt from his number-one enemy.
Reigns only announced his no-show just days before the bout was due to take place, in fact. And this led many to worry that his battle with cancer had taken a turn for the worse. A month later, though, Reigns told TMZ that a family matter had been the real impetus for his last-minute absence.
“A lot of people, they think that it was based on my health and the history of my fight against leukemia,” Reigns told the entertainment site. “But just talking to my doctors and stuff, I actually am fine and my immune system is good. We just had two newborn twins, twin boys. They’re eight weeks old, so I had to make a decision for them.”
“If anybody ever questions if I love this business, go back about a year and a half ago,” Reigns continued. “I came back as fast as possible, because I needed a lot longer off to focus on my health, but they told me, ‘Yeah man, you should be fine to get in the ring and do your thing if you want to get back to normal.’ And I jumped as soon as they gave me the green light.”
“This is bigger than me,” Reigns added. “It’s my family, it’s my children. They are my legacy. No matter what I do in this world, my children are gonna be the ones to represent my name and carry our name forward. So I had to make that choice for them, to protect them being so young. We’re doing good. It’s tough, because I wanna be out there.”
Reigns also revealed that he was finding it tough to sit out the action. Nonetheless, he also realizes that with the birth of his fourth and fifth child, he now has other priorities. And when questioned about a possible return to the ring, Reigns answered, “Hopefully [it will be] very soon, but right now we’re in daddy mode.”
One person who approved of Reigns’ decision to take a step back was his onetime Shield tag team partner. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Seth Rollins revealed he couldn’t be happier about Reigns and his wife Galina’s new additions. “They’re just turning out twins, man,” he said. “This is their second set of twins now, which is crazy to me. I’ve never met anyone that had two sets of twins back-to-back.”
“I was fortunate to get the news a while back, and it was nice to see him come out and explain why he’s been taking time off,” Rollins continued. “He’s got five kids running around at home, and he’s trying to help the wife out and make sure everybody’s safe. It’s awesome. It seems like everybody is getting in on the new kid thing these days.”
Unfortunately, though, the boss of the WWE doesn’t appear to be as happy about Reigns’ paternal commitment as Mr. Rollins. Indeed, Vince McMahon allegedly banned any reference to the wrestler on official TV coverage of the franchise. And he was also reportedly behind the removal of Reigns from WrestleMania clips shown on Raw.