VIDEO | Former WWE superstar from Louisville wrestles with life in second round of brain cancer
Matt Cappotelli has unending hope facing a kind of cancer that has never been defeated.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A former WWE superstar from Louisville is in the fight of his life with a kind of cancer that has never been defeated.
Doctors diagnosed Matt Cappotelli with a Grade 4 glioblastoma tumor, the most deadly form of brain cancer.
"Though it seems unfortunate, I want it to be portrayed as a story of hope ... unending hope," Cappotelli said.
For 38-year-old Cappotelli, cancer is a rematch. His first battle with a brain tumor in 2005 was a drama-filled fight that played out as the world watched. Cappotelli won the "Tough Enough" reality show in 2003 and earned a WWE contract then was assigned to Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville as a developmental trainee.
"Everyone loved Matt," said former WWE developmental coach Al Snow. "Genuinely a wonderful human being."
Despite tremendous talent Cappotelli never made the call up to a full-time spot on the WWE roster as injury setbacks kept him back in OVW. There was a broken leg, a concussion and then another head injury, which ultimately revealed his first brain tumor.
"He got knocked out, and when he came to, he just didn't have all his faculties," said OVW founder Danny Davis.
Trainers had to force Cappotelli to go to the hospital.
"He begged me not to go," Snow said. "I remember him sobbing. He didn't want it to be taken away from him again."
Cappotelli now considers the blow a faithful moment.
"If I hadn't gone to the hospital that night, who knows how long (the tumor) would have gone unnoticed."
Cappotelli beat cancer in 2007, but it also ended his career in the ring. He'd played the ultimate hero for much of his time as an in ring competitor, a good guy who fights to the last. On his very last night in the ring, Cappotelli prayed on the OVW television show with a crowd of more than 300 people. He asked for strength and for his journey to be an inspiration to others who were going through hard time.
"People say I'm strong but I'm not strong I'm weak, GOD is strong," Cappotelli said.
The same faith that carried Cappotelli through ten years of remission now has him believing in a miracle.
"The first time was shock, but this time it kind of took the wind out of my sails," he said. "Every year you get past cancer and into remission you get more comfortable that you're beyond it."
In June, surgeons removed 90 percent of the mass pressing on Cappotelli's skull. The remaining 10 percent is being treated with chemotherapy, but it's next to the brain stem, considered too dangerous to touch. It's terminal, and doctors say only five percent of patients survive five years.
Doctors say Glioblastoma is bigger, meaner and stronger tumor than Cappotelli's last fight.
"A diagnosis of cancer like this is not a war. It's a military campaign," said Dr. Renato LaRocca, an oncologist at Norton Cancer Institute. "In other words, you fight battles, then you reorganize, then you fight again but it's a journey."
Approximately 13,000 people die with cancer like Cappotelli's each year. So far, the journey has left him with the effects of Parkinson's but not the disease.
It slowed his speech, emotional response, motor skills and function.
Ever the wrestler Cappotelli won't tap out. After retiring from in-ring competition, he became a personal trainer. Now he just has one client, himself. It's not unusual for neighbors to see Cappotelli doing squats, push-ups or lifting weights in the garage of his Louisville home. He's trying to regain what he's lost by staying active.
Cappotelli also tagged in a new partner for this battle, the Optune device, which looks like a swim cap but delivers electronic waves throughout his brain.
"It basically prevents brain tumor cells from dividing, and when they do divide, they screw up the cell division process so the cell doesn't survive," LaRocca said.
Cappotelli wears the Optune 18 hours a day. The layers of treatment are like a four corners match, and he has partners on every side of the ring. His faith, his wife Lindsay, his doctors and his passion: professional wrestling.
"I think it's his therapy," Davis said. "It's something he has to have in order to make it through to the next day."
Despite cancer cutting short his own career, Cappotelli returned to the OVW staff as a trainer to help other young athletes fulfill their dreams.
"Absolutely, it's a gift," LaRocca said. "I have seen throughout the years ... outcome is very much impacted by the energy and productiveness of the patient."
Fans, friends and even some former foes have embraced Cappotelli. They formed Team Capp, rallying behind their champion. They've raised more than $30,000 to date to help him with medical expenses. Donations have come from around the world.
OVW hosted a benefit show in the fall organized by his former students.
"It's times like this that you need to know who's in your corner," Cappotelli said to the sold out crowd with tears welling in his eyes. "When I do get through this, just know I will be there for you."
No doubt, Cappotelli's back is against the ropes. But he wrestles with life the same way he did in the ring: believing he will triumph one more time.
Watch the full report on Cappotelli's battle in the video player above.
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