It’s early September, 2011, and a 39-year-old man is inside his then-fiancee’s Lakewood apartment, trying to finish up some work before making the six-hour drive to Toronto to see his favorite band, Pearl Jam.
The man’s name is Bill Castrovince. His life is about to change.
His fiancee, Carolyn Rebish, has brought back lunch and as Castrovince starts talking to her, it becomes clear something was wrong.
“He wasn’t saying anything,” said Rebish, who was annoyed at first. “Then I realized it was because he actually couldn’t talk to me. So he walked outside to get his bearings. He was OK mentally, but he couldn’t get the words out.”
Castrovince, a sports anchor at WYTV for 13 years, goes to a nearby emergency room, then to a downtown Cleveland hospital, where he stays for three weeks. The news is bad: He has a three-centimeter brain tumor. He’ll need surgery, then radiation and chemotherapy.
“The doctor said the type of cancer I had was a grade four out of four,” said Castrovince. “He said people who have this, a year from now, about 50 percent are there and the other 50 percent are not there.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ ”
Over the next few months, he learns two things: He has really good taste in women. And when he left Youngstown two years ago, Youngstown never left him.
Castrovince went to high school with Rebish but it wasn’t until nearly 20 years later, when she was featured in the “Singles Out” section of Cleveland magazine, that they got together. Two months before he was hospitalized, Castrovince proposed to her in Venice, Italy. On a gondola. In Italian.
They wouldn’t get married until July of 2012, but as Castrovince said, “We got the ‘in sickness and in health’ part out of the way a little early.”
Doctors were able to remove the tumor but Castrovince had problems with his treatment. Radiation went fine but chemo (which he took in pill form) “was a little rougher than I thought. I did a lot of Graham crackers and ginger ale.” The pills messed with his blood — he was getting tests and platelet transfusions almost every day — and even now, it still isn’t quite right. He spent New Year’s Eve, 2011, in the hospital and told Rebish, “Go have fun, because I can’t.”
“They tell you that, sometimes, it’s almost worse on the caregiver,” Castrovince said. “But she never complains. She’s just an amazing person, which is why I proposed to her in the first place, so I wasn’t worried.
“But she was a wreck. So was everybody else.”
Castrovince was forced to leave his job as an anchor for SportsTime Ohio’s High School Sports Insider, but he stayed connected with the sports community — through his 1,500 Facebook friends (who get periodic updates); through his brother, Anthony, a columnist at MLB.com (who wrote a story about Bill’s battle with cancer); through Anthony’s wife, Kate (who ran a marathon to raise money for Castrovince’s treatment); and through the thousands of people who welcomed him into their homes (and couldn’t wait to see him again).
“I kept all the cards and other things from people and there’s just so many from Youngstown,” said Castrovince, who is still trying to sell his condo in Boardman (email him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested). “But it doesn’t surprise me. The people there are just top-notch. There’s nobody better.”
Added Rebish, “Any time we post anything on Facebook, I’ll get like 10 or 20 responses but he gets hundreds of ‘likes’ and comments. The amount of people he’s connected with is amazing.”
On Jan. 10, those people got some very good news, as Castrovince wrote this: One year after chemo and radiation, I’ve been declared cancer free!”
It got 405 “likes.”
Castrovince started easing himself back into work at last March’s state gymnastics tournament and, every week, started adding a little more. He’s not 100 percent. He’s still on medications, he says a few more “ums” and “uhs” than he used to, and it takes him longer to write his TV scripts. But he’s not the self-pitying type.
He’s more like Joe Mayo from Seinfeld — ridiculously, comically friendly.
“There’s no reason to sit here and say, ‘Why me?’” Castrovince said. “It’s just ... stuff happens. When I couldn’t talk, I was more [ticked] because we were just about to see Pearl Jam in Toronto and I ended up missing it.”
He still hasn’t seen them — “And I’m still angry about that,” he said, laughing — but Pearl Jam has two North American dates planned for 2013 — July 16 in Ontario and July 19 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
“I’m going to see as many shows as I can,” he said. “I’ll just have a different haircut than I used to.”
Joe Scalzo covers sports for The Vindicator. Write to him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JoeScalzo1.