My Comeback From Cancer (FSM 118; April 2015)
Late last year, British stand-out Kris Travis was diagnosed with stomach cancer. In this FSM Guest Column, he details how his illness was discovered, what he had to go through to treat it, and why he’ll be back, no matter what the doctors say.
I first knew something was wrong on the day the FIFA World Cup started. I was working at Southside Wrestling and I’d been feeling unwell, hiccupping all night and having bad acid reflux in my stomach. At home when I was watching the football, I was sick, and it kicked off what became a ritual every day: I’d fell unwell, have heartburn, be burping with a terrible smell, and then I wouldn’t sleep until I’d been sick. It wasn’t vomiting: I’d just open my mouth and it would come flowing out.
Every time I went to the doctor, he’d tell me it was nothing to worry about – it was just heartburn or indigestion. When I saw blood in my sick, he said it was irritable bowel syndrome, and to try a different diet. But it kept going on and I lost a stone in weight, all of it muscle. I had what turned out to be my last match for PAID Promotions at the end of August, and I’ve since found out that I looked so bad that Martin Kirby had quietly told everyone not to say anything because I was getting paranoid about it.
This was right when I was having the biggest opportunity of my career: getting in the final six of TNA’s British Bootcamp. On the Monday we shot the commercials for it, and driving back, I told Rampage Brown that I had a bad feeling my illness was something serious.
I got the diagnosis on the Thursday.
OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE
I was getting out of the bath when I collapsed, so I went to hospital, where they put a camera down my throat and told me they saw something. It didn’t look like an ulcer, but instead it might be a tumour, so I’d need a biopsy.
When the doctor told me it was stomach cancer, it was like an out-of-body experience. He probably kept talking for another three or four minutes, but I was just staring right through him. It was almost like being drunk, with everything all blurry. As soon as you hear the word “cancer”, you immediately think, “I’m going to die.”
The next three or four days were the worst of my life, because they had to wait to see if the cancer had spread from my stomach to my pancreas. They told me that if it had, there’d be nothing they could do. I was on a drip and not allowed to eat, so I was just stuck there with nothing to do but pray. All through this, my friends were still texting, and I was having to keep up the pretence that everything was okay. When the test results came back, they showed that the tumour was actually touching my pancreas, but hadn’t spread to it, so another few weeks and I might have been dead.
Normally with cancer, what happens next is you have 9 weeks of chemotherapy to attack the tumour, then they remove it, and then you have another 9 weeks of chemotherapy to make sure anything left is killed off. In my case, the tumour was blocking the exit from my stomach, so I was getting no nourishment at all, and it had left me so weak that I wouldn’t have survived the chemotherapy. Instead, they decided to take the tumour out straight away, which involved removing about 70 percent of my stomach as well.
They stapled up my stomach and sent me home about a week later, to recover and get ready to start treatment a month after that. It took time to get used to things; because my stomach is so much smaller now, I was having a slice of toast and a cup of tea and would feel completely full, so I was still down in weight.
The way they treated me meant I would have the chemotherapy for 18 straight weeks without a break. Naively, I pictured chemotherapy as you sitting in a chair while they fire some rays through you like a giant X-ray, but it’s nothing like that. Instead, you are sat there for 11 or 12 hours at a time with a drip in your arm while they pump you full of these horrible drugs which are bright red and turn your urine red or orange.
That part of it was every third Monday, so I’d have one week of feeling horrible and two weeks that were more okay. I also had to take six tablets every day, which cause all the things people know about, like your hair falling out. My skin got very thin, and I’d have sores everywhere. The worst part is that some of the symptoms are the same as you get from the cancer itself, so until you really understand that, you’re terrified it’s come back again.
At first, I’d only really told a few people in wrestling. In this industry, you know a lot of people, but I only had a few I considered close friends. I have a text message group with people like Martin Kirby, Joey Hayes, CJ Banks and El Ligero, where we message each other almost every day, so they were the first people I told. I asked them to keep it to themselves, and for Kirby to tell people I had a stomach ulcer.
Eventually, I was starting to pull out of too many shows, some of them with big matches – like against Austin Aries – to where people were beginning to ask too many questions, so I went public. I honestly assumed that my close friends would be shocked, maybe some other wrestlers would be a little upset, and then that most people would forget about it in two or three weeks Instead, I was getting just a ridiculous number of emails from wrestlers and fans, and my phone was just text after text after text. Steve Evans, the promoter at FPW, put on a fundraiser show, then PCW set up another; there were whip-rounds at shows; Defend Indy Wrestling and PROGRESS Wrestling were selling T-shirts to raise money; Harvey Dale and Adam Curtis were organising more fundraisers; Rev Pro did something, too, and I’m sure there are people I am forgetting to mention. There was so much it rolled into one.
People I’d only met a few times and wouldn’t have considered a friend were showing their support and love. There were even people outside of Britain who don’t know me from Adam, like William Regal, Marc Mero and X-Pac, who were sending me good wishes and support. Mick Foley and Prince Devitt donated money as well.
I’d become quite cynical about British wrestling over the last few years, what with the politics and promoters who undervalue and underpay the wrestlers, but this showed that people do pull together, and that we do look after each other. If there’s anything positive that came out of this, it’s that it brought people together, and showed we are a community.
I said a few words to the crowd at the PCW show – where I was meant to be wrestling Aries – just so I could be involved. Then we had the tribute show where everyone worked for free and without expenses to raise money for me. Chris Masters even flew himself over from America, paying for the flight himself; he could have just sent a video message or something, but he did that to show support. It was incredibly emotional; seeing hundreds of people in my shirts, chanting my name, is something that will live with me forever. We all came together. We were family.
Of course, this being wrestling, I still hit Masters with a chair at the end of the night!
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
I finished the chemotherapy at the beginning of March, and though there’ll be another appointment in a few months, the doctors told me to carry on trying to get back to a normal life. I’m doing that, but all the time you’re still just praying it never comes back.
A week before I finished the treatment, I got back in the gym for the first time, and that was a huge deal for me. I felt like chemotherapy took a lot of my identity and, though it might sound silly, my masculinity. I’d gone from having cool hair, being in good shape and tanned, to being as pale as Casper the Friendly Ghost. I couldn’t even go to the shop and carry back a bottle of milk without getting out of breath, and my arm and shoulder aching. I’m just really happy to be back in the gym, even if I am using the little pink weights!
When I got the diagnosis, the doctor asked what I did for a living and said, “You do understand you’ll never wrestle again?” At the time, I just accepted it, but now the thought of getting back in the ring has made me so much more focused. It’s a rush every time I work out, and I feel more energised every time.
I’m still in contact with Jeremy Borash, and would consider him a friend now. He keeps asking how I am, and says the door is always open, so I’m pretty optimistic that once I’m fully healthy, there could be a deal that can be made with TNA.
Having cancer and the treatment leaves you feeling worthless, feeling useless, feeling you’ve got nothing to offer.
But now I can focus on wrestling, I know I do have something to offer, and I want to show it.
To read Kris’ blog detailing his ongoing return to the gym and fitness, visit www.KrisTravis.com.