Former WWE Tough Enough winner Matt Cappotelli on his second battle with brain cancer
Matt Cappotelli is a fighter.
He proved that when he won the third season of WWE Tough Enough in 2003, alongside John Morrison. He especially proved it just a few years later, when he fought and defeated brain cancer, which cut his promising in-ring career short.
Now, Cappotelli is getting ready for another fight. In late June, Cappotelli underwent emergency surgery after it was discovered that the cancer had come back. A GoFundMe has been set up to help him in his fight. WWE.com spoke with the Tough Enough champion to see how he’s feeling as he continues to battle.
WWE.COM: When did you find out that the cancer had returned?
MATT CAPPOTELLI: The last week of June, I went in for my yearly meeting with my oncologist. They decided they wanted to get an MRI, just to check on everything, like I’ve done every year for the last 10 years. Because of some other issues, they said, “Why don’t we move this up a couple months?” I said OK, and I went in for a standard MRI, was feeling fine, but they called me after the scan and said they needed me to get to the hospital as soon as possible. It looked like my cancer may have returned.
WWE.COM: After 10 years in remission, how does that news affect you?
CAPPOTELLI: Well, what everyone says and what was in my head is that every year you’re in remission is a year you’re further from it ever coming back. The comfort level begins to build every year you’re past it. You’re not on edge as much. Every MRI is just a test you think less and less is going to come back with a health threat.
Over the years, that comfort level had built up. The last thing I expected was for something to be there. It was shocking. The first time around, I was completely shocked and thrown off guard as far as having something up there, a brain tumor anyways. Some people might have been surprised that I had anything up there, period. The second time around, it was like nothing I could describe. It knocked the wind out of me.
WWE.COM: How did you approach things after finding out?
CAPPOTELLI: I’m always ready to beat it. There’s two mentalities: either you roll over and let it do what it’s going to do, or you stand up and fight it. That was never a question for me; I’m going to fight it. However, this time around, it’s a completely different animal. The first time, the cancer was a very slow-growing, grade 2 tumor. This time, it came back in a more aggressive and deadlier form, a grade 4 glioblastoma, which if you do any research on, it’s not very pleasant to look it.
WWE.COM: How did winning your first fight with cancer change your perspective on life?
CAPPOTELLI: The biggest perspective change for me has been a new understanding that every day, we have the opportunity to impact people's lives. It's our individual job to take hold and boldly face whatever trial we are currently facing. We need to all seize each day to make the biggest impact and lead by example while inspiring others to conquer whatever trial they're dealing with in their own lives.
We're all in this together and need to be transparent in our struggles in order to give strength to one another. We need to be bold, be brave and fight together!
WWE.COM: What kind of treatment are you going through now?
CAPPOTELLI: I just started chemotherapy. I’m on my third day. I had surgery right after we found it, on the 29th of June. Since then, I’ve gone around the country, getting advice and opinions from different teams of doctors. It’s a little complicated because I’ve been through it before, being exposed to radiation one time. Some doctors are for it again, others say it’s way too dangerous. I made the decision to hold off on the radiation; we’ll use it in the future if we need to. Right now, I’m doing the chemotherapy, and we’re looking at some other adjunct therapies to maybe combine that with.
WWE.COM: What does it mean to have so many people reaching out to support you, whether it’s on social media, GoFundMe, or with prayers and well-wishes?
CAPPOTELLI: It’s huge, because there’s times where it’s not easy. It’s not easy to say “I’m going to fight this,” and stand up and battle. You get worn down, especially with this being the second time around. To have people supporting you takes the weight off your shoulders. To know that there’s that many people, especially my family and friends, but even the wrestling community that hasn’t seen me in 10 years. Just because of the exposure I got from Tough Enough and [Ohio Valley Wrestling], they got to know a little bit about me, and they didn’t forget. That means so much.
WWE.COM: You’re still involved in sports-entertainment today as a trainer at Ohio Valley Wrestling in Lexington, Ky. How much has sports-entertainment meant to you?
CAPPOTELLI: It’s meant everything. To be honest, it took me a few years to make the transition, because of the way my career ended. It was on a note where it was something I knew I wanted to do and could still do. I had the passion in me to come back from my first battle with cancer. I wasn’t ready to go from player to coach. It took me several years to make that transition and concede that maybe my career was over.
WWE.COM: Is there a message that you hope your battle with cancer can send to people?
CAPPOTELLI: Just that you have to fight for what you want. Life is the most precious gift we’re given. If I can inspire others to not give up on the life they’ve been blessed to have, that’s what I’m trying to spread – hope. There’s others going through what I’m going through or worse. They need support and inspiration like I do.
It’s a community; we all feed off one another. It’s not time to crawl up in a hole and feel bad for myself and get down. It’s time for me to stand up and share my struggles publicly so that others can draw strength and hope from me. That way, I’m giving back and turning what I’ve been given in life into a positive and helping someone along the way. I think we need to stand together. If I can inspire someone to share their struggles – it’s not easy, at least for me, to be vulnerable. You want to hold it in and put on the tough guy persona, that nothing’s getting to you, but that’s a lie. I don’t think anyone draws inspiration from that. They do from seeing you struggle, be open and relatable. I think the more you’re open and relatable, there’s more strength others can draw from that.
You can support Matt Cappotelli in his battle against cancer by making a donation at gofundme.com/mattsbiggestbattle.