Trapper’s Den: Busick Hopes To Bounce Back From Cancer With “Bully Vitamin Fortified” Faith
By Thomas Leturgey
Nick Busick may have most-famously portrayed a growling, stomping, cigar-smoking “Bully” on World Wrestling Federation (WWF) television, but that’s the only showboating he has ever done. In a strong, genuine and authentic voice, Nick Busick wants his fans to know that he is not looking for empathy in announcing that he has esophageal cancer. He’s battled tougher opponents in and out of the squared circle, and in no way feels he is a victim of this disease.
“More than anything, I want everyone to know that I come at this with great gratitude, faith and peace,” he said enthusiastically from his home in Weirton, West Virginia on June 1, his 61st birthday.
There’s no “oh, woe is me” from “Big Bully” Busick. His attitude toward the malignancy is quite the opposite. He remains upbeat and determined to vehemently fight this foe. He hopes his adventure “helps someone. God willing.”
About a week before his May 2nd induction into the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) Hall of Fame in Pittsburgh, Busick started to experience problems swallowing. As part of the induction ceremony, which included fellow inductee James J. Dillon and previous honoree Dominic DeNucci, Busick posed for pictures with his trademarked, but unlit cigar.
During the appearance, Busick met with fans, and had a grand time alongside his sons. Two days later he experienced a terrifying episode in which his throat started to bleed uncontrollably. “I almost bled out,” he explained calmly. He went to a doctor and had an endoscopy.
According to the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, esophageal cancer is when a tumor develops on the muscular tube which connects the mouth to the stomach. Tumors can be either benign or malignant. Benign tumors have uncontrolled cell growth that do not invade into normal tissues or spread. Busick’s doctors from the Mesothelioma Specialty Care Center of UPMC Cancer Centers aren’t yet sure of the prognosis.
“I’m undergoing very aggressive treatment,” Busick continued. “Monday, Wednesday and Friday chemotherapy treatments every other week.”
Busick’s cancer has been diagnosed as Stage III. According to Texas Oncology’s website, “Patients with stage III esophageal cancer have cancer that invades through the wall of the esophagus and has spread to the lymph nodes and/or invaded adjacent structures.” The cancer is considered by experts to be common and locally advanced.
It’s too early to tell if chemotherapy will work or if medical professionals will have to operate. “There are too many variables.” He is as optimistic as anyone can be in his position.
The powerlifting legend takes turns going to treatments at UPMC in Pittsburgh as well as the Weirton Medical Center’s (WMC) cancer treatment facility, which is affiliated with the Allegheny Health network that opened last October.
Busick had three treatments the week before his birthday, so he was able to enjoy some celebration with his family and friends without a doctor’s appointment. Included in the merriment is Nick and his wife Lorie’s granddaughter, Mila, who was born the last week of April. “We have a close knit family,” Nick said.
Unfortunately and even though cigar smoke is not inhaled into the esophagus, his “Bully vitamin fortified” stogies are now forbidden by doctors. Esophageal cancer is most common in white males in their 50’s to 70’s. Busick fits right in the middle of that demographic.
The diagnosis and treatments have taken their toll emotionally on Busick, who wrestled his first match in Pittsburgh on May 28, 1978 and his last in Weirton on April 19, 2013. “Some days are horrible and I can’t get out of bed. Some days I feel good, as if nothing’s wrong. I take it a day at a time.”
Fans of “The Bully” know this isn’t his first go-around with serious health issues. In 2013 he announced to the wrestling world that he suffered from Chronic Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib), an irregular and rapid heart rate throughout his WWF career. The condition kicked his heart into overdrive because of abnormal electric activity in the organ. By his own admission, during his 1991 stint in the WWF, he routinely punched himself in the chest to help regulate his heartbeat.
Ten years ago during a wind-sprint workout, Busick went into Sudden Death Cardiac Arrest and actually died on a gymnasium floor. Quick thinking from other athletes and a defibrillator brought him back to life. Five years ago surgeons “remapped” his heart and he’s had a clean bill of cardiac health ever since.
A man once known for squatting more than 800 pounds and bench-pressing slightly more than 600, was still squatting 600 and benching more than 400 well into his 50’s. “I have been able to get two work outs in since chemo started,” he added.
At his wrestling heyday, the 6’0” Busick weighed about 285 pounds. A recent weight management “journey” got him down to 240. “I felt really good,” he says. After the diagnosis, his weight has plummeted to about 218.
He still runs his own security company — CCI Risk Consultants — and has other work obligations, but is able to plan his day according to how he feels.
“In no way am I looking for sympathy,” his voice rising in enthusiasm. “I have a long list of heroes and people I am grateful for. My parents, my family, the wrestling community, the powerlifting community, the law enforcement community.” He notes that Bruno Sammartino has long been his sports hero and wrestlers like DeNucci, “Jumpin’” Johnny DeFazio, Jerry Blackwell and Dick Slater (among others) have been great friends throughout his professional career.
There have been initial talks for a professional wrestling fundraising event in conjunction with Texas Roadhouse restaurant to help with Busick’s medical bills. Nick is eager to see what the next chapter of the “Bully’s Tale” has in store. “It’s all in God’s hands,” he says.
— Thomas Leturgey