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WWE’s Roman Reigns is not done wrestling with leukemia

But he’s in remission and ready for WrestleMania 35 on April 7

Within seconds of fans hearing the familiar guitar chords of WWE star Roman Reigns’ theme song, screams filled the arena. The February taping of Monday Night Raw was the first time Reigns had stepped foot in the ring since announcing his battle with leukemia in October.

The day of his return marked a day of triumph for the 33-year-old. Reigns entered the ring and took an extra moment to bask in the chanting of his name and standing ovation around him. He acknowledged fans with handshakes and high-fives as he made his way down the ramp, and he beamed as he delivered the good news to supporters and critics alike that his cancer was in remission.

The Big Dog was officially back to doing what he loved.

Less than a month later, Reigns joined forces with fellow wrestlers Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins for a brief reunion of The Shield before setting his sights on WrestleMania 35 on April 7, where he will battle Drew McIntyre on The Grandest Stage of Them All. For Reigns, the year had been filled with the unexpected, and being slammed by the reality of life added layers of unknowns. Even his return to the ring was one he wasn’t sure would happen so quickly.

“I didn’t know if I was going to have a match,” Reigns said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be on the catering squad or what. I didn’t know if I’d just be enjoying it with the rest of the universe. But the fact that I’m in [WrestleMania], the fact that I’m part of it, makes me superproud, and I just want to take advantage of it and knock this one out of the park.”

There isn’t a special regimen Reigns has going into WrestleMania, but slowly getting back into the swing of his usual WWE work routine while keeping his health at the forefront serves as rehabilitation. The fact that it took Reigns only 127 days from the time of his cancer announcement to his return to the ring is a miracle in itself.

It’s a recurrent fight for his life

The signs were all too familiar.

When Reigns was diagnosed with leukemia for the first time 11 years ago at the age of 22, the symptoms were foreign. This time, he was aware that the red flags were there, and they were hard to ignore. According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, leukemia begins in a cell in the bone marrow and, over time, the infected cells can suppress the production of normal cells. A healthy adult should have a white blood cell count of between 4,000 and 11,000. In Reigns’ case, a white blood cell count well over 100,000 caused concern. Through further examination, doctors discovered Reigns’ enlarged spleen and knew exactly what was happening.

“That was the immediate physical scare of having to get me out of the ring,” Reigns said. “With a ruptured spleen, it’s obviously going to be a major operation, but people can die from it. It was a situation we didn’t want to put ourselves in, no matter how hardheaded I can be.”

Reigns knew he’d have to step back from his career to focus on his health. So in October, he decided to relinquish the universal title.

Reigns entered the ring on Oct. 22, 2018, during the live filming of Monday Night Raw in Rhode Island to address his health publicly for the first time. A mixture of cheers and jeers reverberated in the building as Reigns spoke, but at the mention of cancer, a hush fell over the crowd. Cameras panned to a stunned and visibly upset audience as Reigns discussed the details of his diagnosis and what it meant for the future. In that moment, the WWE superstar was not the loved and loathed Roman Reigns whom fans have followed since his debut in 2012. Before them stood Joe Anoa‘i, who was fighting a years-long battle with leukemia.

After his announcement, Reigns was showered with prayers, positive messages and wishes for a speedy recovery. But making his battle public came with a different set of complexities that Reigns still struggles to navigate.

“For me, the wrestling thing, I got that under control. I can wrestle in my sleep,” said Reigns. “Now, it’s about putting a different light on what we do and using this global platform that we have.”

“There’s still things I deal with on a day-to-day process,” Reigns said. “It’s still weird to meet strangers and they’re like, ‘How are you feeling?’ It’s like an immediate sympathy for me. That’s something I didn’t want, the part I don’t like, because I don’t want people to feel worried for me or feel sorry for me. It’s all coming out of a good place, but it’s one of those deals that I’m still struggling with, my health being so public and that’s the first thing people think or know about you.

“For me, I just want to get back to where I’m leading a pretty normal life and I’m just doing the things that I love and getting the recognition for the things I was getting recognition for before this.”

To do that, Reigns is hoping to not only showcase his strength in the ring but also use his now-public battle to help raise awareness for others going through similar situations.

“Everything happens for a reason, and I truly believe we have our own journey and we all have our own path,” Reigns said. “For whatever reason, God kind of put me down this one and even when I thought I was doing what was the best thing for me, he straightened me out and he brought light to it. I just want to maximize it and use it for the best that I can. For me, the wrestling thing, I got that under control. I can wrestle in my sleep. Now, it’s about putting a different light on what we do and using this global platform that we have.”

As Reigns continues to take things slowly, living day to day and enjoying each moment, he’s also not shying away from one of the biggest moments of his life. While preparing for WrestleMania remains a large part of his focus, Reigns is reminded daily that none of this would be possible without the help of his wide-reaching support system.

“There’s a goal at hand, and when I achieve it, we all achieve it,” Reigns said. “I’m not just gonna check this box off by myself. Everybody that was with me, everybody that was supporting me, when they see me walk down that ramp at WrestleMania, they know that miracles can happen. They’ll know that support system is true, and when people have the comfort of loved ones and those sending blessings to them, they can achieve anything. I just want people to know that’s what I feel like.

“The fact that I’m participating speaks volumes for me, and I hope people who see that know that came from the love and the blessings that they sent to me. That didn’t happen for no reason. It happened because God heard a huge outpouring of prayers, and I firmly believe that.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.