This interview with Brian Hildebrand, better known to many as WCW referee Mark Curtis, took place while he was in the middle of his losing battle with cancer. Brian was one of the most respected and best loved individuals in pro wrestling and almost a year before this interview was conducted, it appeared he had beaten cancer. In Issue #76 of Wrestling Perspective, Hildebrand discussed his brave fight against cancer, working for WCW, the final days of Smoky Mountain Wrestling (including what he thinks of the way Jim Cornette closed the promotion) and his opinions on the top stars of the business. In this excerpt Hildebrand discussed his first battle with cancer and the disease's subsequent return.
Wrestling Perspective: What did the doctor think you had (when you first started experiencing your stomach cancer symptoms)?
Brian Hildebrand: They were just figuring I had an ulcer. They did the scope where they take the scope and put it down your throat and look around. They could see a couple of ulcers down there so that's what everyone figured what it was. Of course, I had this test and that test and everything else. Finally, it got to the point about a year or so ago where I had lived with this two-and-a-half, three years and it just got to the point where it was too painful. So I decided to go in and have them get rid of the ulcers. They told me they'd take out a quarter of my stomach. That's what they figured they'd take and that would be it. I figured that's not too bad. I'll go in and do that and I'll be off for maybe two, three months at the most and be back to work. They went in and when I came back out, I found out they took out three-quarters of my stomach and what they thought were ulcers were indeed ulcers. But also in the lining of the stomach was cancer, called gastric cancer. They also took out my spleen and a bunch of lymph nodes.
Wrestling Perspective: Any history of this in the family?
Brian Hildebrand: No, not at all.
Wrestling Perspective: So this must of come as quite a shock.
Brian Hildebrand: Right. A complete shock especially after they told me that normally the people who have the condition that I have are ages 60 to 70 years old and are of African or Asian decent and I'm thinking at that point I'm 35 years old and I'm as white as you can get. So when they took out the lymph nodes, they took out 11 of them and three of them came back positive which they deemed was enough that I had to do chemo and radiation. So I got out of the hospital and have to do deal with all of this and made the decision to do the chemo and the radiation just so we cover every base and not have to worry about it.
Wrestling Perspective: If you hadn't was there a greater occurrence of it coming back?
Brian Hildebrand: Not really because they had told us they got all of it out. It was just for precautionary measures. They put me through a highly-intensive chemotherapy and radiation regiment and I was doing chemo and radiation for the first month at the same time. Then I was done with the radiation and did two more months of chemo.
Wrestling Perspective: This was just a preventative measure.
Brian Hildebrand: Yes, because the three lymph nodes came back positive. They wanted to make sure nowhere else in that area was going to come back with anymore cancer. So that came and went and unlike most people who lose their hair and everything else, I didn't start losing mine until six months after all this stuff happened, which was really interesting.
Wrestling Perspective: Had the doctors told you that you could come back to wrestling, but that it would take some time?
Brian Hildebrand: There was no doubt in my mind that I was coming back anyway. Just because how I feel about the business and what I do.
Wrestling Perspective: What are the feelings that run through your mind when this happens at the same time your professional and personal lives are coming together?
Brian Hildebrand: Well, you know, I was worried about my job, but I was reassured that when I got through everything and got my strength back that my job would be there. That was a load off my mind. I praised God that I've got probably the best human being to be my wife. Number one, for putting up with me and number two for just being an angel. There was nothing that was going to stop us from getting married. I had a real positive outlook on that. Everyone has a day or two where they get down and everything, but I knew what I had to do to get back to work. I knew what I had to do to make my life happy. We just concentrated on that and went with it. Before the first operation, I was 145 pounds. If you look at that A&E special when they interviewed me. If you look at me then and look at me now, it's like two different people. I actually look like a fat, chubby person in that thing. To look at me when I first started refereeing again after the operation, it's like night and day. I went from 145 pounds down to 105 whenever I first started back with WCW back in February. During that time, I was able to slowly but surely not having that much of a stomach, I had to relearn to eat, which I'm having to do again. I had to relearn to eat. Stuff I was able to eat before I couldn't eat now. I used to love ice cream and milk and cereal and I found out that I can't take milk, whether it's soy milk or whatever. I was completely lactose-intolerant. Hamburgers, which I dearly love, I couldn't eat any more hamburgers because of the fat in the meat. Spaghetti, which I absolutely love, I was able to eat maybe three bite-fulls and I was full. All the stuff that I loved I had either to give up or relearn to do things. But I was able to up until the beginning of October. I was able to get my weight from 105 back up to 135, which to me was nothing less than miraculous in less than eight months to put that back on. So I was a real happy camper. During that time, I'd gotten married, I was able to put the weight back on, the job was going great. I was finally getting my strength completely back. They say when you have an operation it takes at least a year for recovery. You can go back to work and everything. But until your body fully heals, it take at least a year. So I was coming up on my one-year anniversary and all of a sudden I wasn't able to pass gas. I wasn't able to defecate. I'm trying to think of the right words. I wasn't able to eat. If I would eat, it would come back up on me. If I was to drink water, it would come back up on me. This just happened like overnight. In the matter of two weeks, I dropped 10 pounds.
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Copyright Notice: This interview is Copyright © 1999 Wrestling Perspective and may not be quoted, reprinted or distributed without written permission from Wrestling Perspective publishers Paul MacArthur and David Skolnick.