If You’re Gonna Beat Cancer, Do It With Flair

BJ Colangelo
Feb 17, 2017 · 8 min read
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Ric Flair celebrates Charlotte’s NXT Women’s Championship Title Win (google images)

Growing up, one of my dad’s prized possessions was a Dusty Rhodes autographed WCW Heavyweight Championship Replica title belt that hung on our mantelpiece, and a Ric Flair wrestling card that’s probably only worth two dollars. But to him? That card was everything. That card survived complete design overhauls, countless raging parties, and plenty of rowdy sporting event get togethers. For all intents and purposes, my dad is a “guy’s guy.” He’s a diehard Chicago sports fan, exclusively drinks Budweiser (from a bottle or don’t even offer it), and the only time he wears shirts that don’t have yolked sleeves are at weddings and funerals. My dad and three of his guy friends signal each other with the Four Horsemen salute, he’s a champion dart player…but he never had a son to share his interests.

Don’t get me wrong, my father loves my sister and I, dearly. But I know that it must have been difficult for him to raise not only two little girls, but two little girls that were the antithesis of anything that screamed “boy.” We did beauty pageants, baton twirling, ice skating, cheerleading, and took to a love of glamour at a very early age. Perhaps it’s the dramatics and pageantry of the sport, but I had no problem watching wrestling with my dad. Growing up as a little Chicagoland kid in the 1990s meant some of my fondest memories were staying up late to watch Michael Jordan and The Chicago Bulls, but for whatever reason, watching WCW Halloween Havoc 1994 with my dad is a memory that forever sticks out to me.

For nearly twenty minutes, my dad watched in a panic as Ric Flair battled Hulk Hogan in a steel cage not only for the title, but risking a forced retirement. Mr. T served as the guest referee. Flair eventually was defeated and took a few months off, but for my dad, that was the end of it. His Titan had been slayed and if there wasn’t going to be Flair every week, he wasn’t going to be watching. At this point, my dad fell out of love with professional wrestling and found himself consumed by the more “traditional” sports.

Years went by and I’d occasionally catch him watching Monday Night RAW after a long day of work, but he never followed any of the storylines or checked out the up and coming talent. They weren’t Flair. They weren’t the stylin’, profilin’, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ n’ dealin’ son of a gun, and none of them could hold a candle to him. As I got older, my dad picked up a habit that I would pick up and continue to do long after I moved away from home. Out of the blue, my dad would sit me, my sister, or my mother down and tell us he had something very important to tell us. With the utmost sincerity, he’d start a speech about how “I’m asking you to pay attention, because I can only say this once. It’s extremely important and I am having a difficult time telling you this.” As panic built up and we all started letting anxiety overwhelm us, my dad would cry out a Ric Flair “WOOOOOO!” just to screw with us. He’s done it probably a thousand times at this point, and I fall for it every. single. Time.

I moved to Cleveland after a lifetime in Chicago upon graduating from college and quickly fell in love with the indie scene. Living less than two miles from the home base of Absolute Intense Wrestling’s shows made it easier to fall back in love with a sport I’d all but considered nothing more than a childhood memory. The women fighting were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They weren’t super models fighting in lingerie, they were bonafide athletes fighting just as hard, if not harder, than their male counterparts. I loved everything about it, and after a decade hiatus, I was back in the saddle as a full blown mark.

And then I got sick.

“We’re not entirely sure what is making you feel ill, but there is something we need to tell you. Ma’am, we have noticed a large mass on the tail end of your pancreas. We are going to transfer you to University Hospital’s Main Campus for a biopsy.”

Within a week, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 23. I had a rare form of a neuroendocrine tumor the size of a tennis ball on the tail of my pancreas. The type of cancer I had is similar as the one that killed Steve Jobs. To put it into perspective for you, I had a 4% survival rate. Meaning, there was a 96% chance I was going to die. I was 23, living in a new area, didn’t know anyone, and I was dying.

I’ll never forget the look on my dad’s face the first time a doctor said the word “cancer.” He fell out of his chair and ugly cried. If there’s anything my dad and Ric Flair have in common, it’s that despite being one of the toughest dudes on the planet, he can’t hide his tears for anything. Pumped with one round of chemo (that did absolutely nothing) and some radiation, doctors removed my spleen, 40% of my pancreas, a tennis ball sized tumor, and 22 lymph nodes. A week before, I was enjoying my new life in a new city. Now? I was crying while clumps of brown curls intertwined the bristles of my hairbrush and trying not to laugh, sneeze, cry, hiccup, burp, cough, yawn, or take big breaths. I had staples across my abdomen, I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere without a guide, and I couldn’t eat solid food for almost a month. I was a mess.

A few months into my recovery and treatment, I made a trip back to Chicago to visit my family and friends that hadn’t seen me since my diagnosis. I was moving slowly, trying my best to have a strong face for those that came to visit, but I kept noticing my dad holding a pain in his side. He tried his best to brush it off but considering the fact I went to a doctor looking for treatment for acid reflux only to be diagnosed with cancer, I yelled at my dad and demanded he go to the emergency room to get checked out. My mother drove him to the hospital and texted me updates. “We’re waiting for the doctor.” “Just got blood work done.” “Dad’s getting an ultrasound.” “They want to give him a CT scan.” And then…nothing. Hours went by and there was radio silence. My sister began to panic, but I knew exactly what this meant. There was no way my mother was going to tell me my father had cancer unless it was face to face. My parents came home and my mom grabbed my sister, tears in her eyes and took her to another room to tell her. My dad sat next to me, put his arm around me, and sighed.

“You have cancer, don’t you?”

Another sigh.

“Where is it?”

“My kidney.”

“Welp, some people give their kidneys up voluntarily. I had a 4% chance of survival. I’ll feel bad for you when you get on my level.”

My dad started to laugh/cry and held me tighter than he ever had before. It hurt, horribly. My scar tissue fought back and I wanted to pull away to make the pain stop, but I didn’t. I fought through that pain and hugged him back. And just like that, I solidified the childhood taunts of “you are your father’s daughter.”

My dad’s treatment was quick and he recovered before I did. I went back to Cleveland for my own treatment, and continued consuming as much horror and wrestling as I could handle. Candice LeRae was my greatest inspiration for being a female badass and I must have watched the infamous tag match between her and Joey Ryan & The Young Bucks with her crimson mask 50 times. How could I give up fighting when I was watching someone defy all expectations right before my eyes? I started watching WWE again and it took a little pushing to get into the product, but thanks to my brother from another mother, Wes Allen and the enthusiasm of his son, my nephew Cash, I was introduced to NXT. NXT was everything I ever wanted in a wrestling promotion. The wrestlers had unique and interesting gimmicks, they’re hot on the mic, and they could sincerely and convincingly wrestle. And then…I saw Charlotte.

Charlotte Flair was MY Ric. She was beautiful, terrifying, athletic, fearless, and everything I had ever wanted in a female wrestler. My family watched from afar as my facebook started filling with photos of wrestling memes. My twitter feed became a fever dream of being high on cancer meds and trying to watch wrestling. Every time my parents would call to check in on me, they were interrupting my binging of the We Watch Wrestling podcast. If I wasn’t watching horror, I was watching wrestling, and my dad couldn’t stop making fun of me for it.

That summer, I took another trip home to visit. I was starting to feel like a functional human again and my dad had recovered enough to want to do more than lay on a couch in pain. Catching up was simple. “I feel fine.” “I went to this awesome wrestling show!” “Yep, still writing about horror.” My dad quickly went on a rant about the golden age of wrestling and how whatever I’m watching now couldn’t possibly compare to the real wrestling of yesteryear. I tried to sell him on the WWE network by showing him he could watch all of the old matches he could get his hands on, and he seemed pretty impressed by it, but my dad is also the kind of person that can’t manage Netflix because he’s so behind on technology. After showing him some old matches, I opened up a clip from NXT.

“Dad. I need to show you something I think you’ll like.”

“If it’s new, I’m not going to like it.”

“Trust me. Seriously.”

I pulled up the second NXT Takeover and went straight to the women’s title match. Member of the Hart Dynasty, Natalya would be facing the 2nd Nature, Charlotte Flair for the NXT Women’s Championship title. My dad was never hot on women’s wrestling, but I knew bringing in the allure of Bret Hart and Ric Flair would be something he wouldn’t want to miss.

I saw him try and fight it. He didn’t want to like this match, but he did. He really, really did. He saw my enthusiasm as I yelled at the screen. I saw his excitement when Charlotte put Natalya in a sharp-shooter and then, it hit him. As Charlotte was declared the winner and her dad, Ric Flair, the hero of my own father got emotional celebrating with her, is all came full circle for him

“Thank you, for showing me that honey.”

“You’re welcome, dad.” “ What did you think?”

“I don’t think you realize how important that was for me.”

“Oh?”

“Sit down.” “Britt, I need to tell you something.”

“Oh my god.” “Please don’t tell me you’re still sick.”

“Just please, sit down.”

“Dad. Please don’t do this to me.”

“It’s all going to be okay.”

“Dad!”

And after a long pause with eyes filled with tears, he let out a loud….singular….

“WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Just as Charlotte didn’t need to rest on the laurels of being “Ric Flair’s Daughter” to win, my own father realized his baby girl was a strong fighter that didn’t need her dad to take care of her anymore. I saw his eyes water and he hugged me tight and kissed my forehead. I hugged my dad back and we both winced in pain from the irritation of our scar tissue.

I’m glad to say that my dad and I are both currently in remission. While my dad prefers to watch his old-school matches from the late 80s and 90s, he loves hearing about Charlotte dominating the women’s division.

“Of course she does, she’s genetically superior.”

“Just like you, sweetheart.”

BJ Colangelo

Written by

Lovechild of Chris Sarandon in FRIGHT NIGHT & Susan Sarandon in THE HUNGER | Writer for Hire | wife-to-be of @veloci_trap_tor

BJ Colangelo

Written by

Lovechild of Chris Sarandon in FRIGHT NIGHT & Susan Sarandon in THE HUNGER | Writer for Hire | wife-to-be of @veloci_trap_tor

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