Philly man hopes to send friend battling cancer to WrestleMania

When Simone Perry was diagnosed with cancer, her best friend decided it was time to make her WrestleMania dream come true.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- There is nothing fake about having cancer. Just ask Simone Perry.

She was told by doctors late last year that she has Stage 4 adenocarcinoma, described as a non-small cell lung cancer developed from a genetic mutation.

Those who know the 27-year-old Cleveland area restaurant worker say she is a positive force to be around. Her reaction to her diagnosis is proof of that.

"I took the diagnosis at face-value, and from the moment cancer was brought into the picture, I immediately asked myself and my medical team, 'What do I need to do to get better?'" Perry told 6abc.com.

Perry says she is determined to live her life as she "normally" would, "especially in the face of everything that has come with this diagnosis."

And living life normally for Simone Perry means watching her favorite type of television - pro wrestling.

Perry is an avid wrestling fan. She's been that way ever since she can remember. It stems from your upbringing.

"My dad was a big fan of it, and the Undertaker was his favorite. (My dad) passed away when I was very young. But some of my earliest memories involve him and my cousins making championship belts out of cardboard and cutting promos on one another," Perry recalled.

One of her favorite memories was a surprise trip to see WWE's flagship TV show, Monday Night Raw, when she was 10 years old.

"Watching wrestling is a deep part of who I am, and I wouldn't trade my love of it for anything," Perry said.

Wrestling was a cornerstone in Perry's relationship with her family, but the connections created from her fandom stretched even farther. Wrestling lead her to making friends, wrestle buddies, who share in the same passion for the squared circle.

One buddy she made during her college years in Chicago is as close as a brother to her to this day.

Aaron Sheehan, a mover and musician from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was on the way to his band's gig in Dekalb, Illinois, when he first met Perry through mutual friends.

They began to chat, and soon, they both realized they shared a pro wrestling connection.



The forming of the friendship was all about timing - not only the timing of Sheehan and Perry being in the same city and going to the same concert, but also the timing of what was happening in the WWE.

It was 2014 and the "Yes Movement" was not only taking wrestling by storm, but the worlds of sports and entertainment, too.

Beloved hero and unassuming underdog Daniel Bryan was in a storyline showcasing his determination and unwillingness to give up in the face of adversity. Bryan had to battle his bosses, known as The Authority, in order to get a WWE Championship match.

Fans were fully behind Bryan's journey. They joined him in constant chants of 'Yes!' while pointing their fingers to the sky in unison with every breath. Those 'Yes!' chants were imitated inside NFL locker rooms, at Pittsburgh Pirates game, and on college football fields. It was a true movement.

At WrestleMania 30 that year, Bryan did the unimaginable and won the WWE Championship. Fans believed in their hero and he came through for them.

In this April 6, 2014 photo, Daniel Bryan reacts during Wrestlemania XXX at the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome in New Orleans.



It was during this time that both Sheehan and Perry became fully invested in wrestling again.

"(The gig) happened two months after Daniel Bryan's incredible night at WrestleMania 30 which got me back into wrestling after I had stopped watching in high school. Simone was coming from a similar place in her wrestling fandom and we instantly bonded over our childhood favorites," Sheehan said.

Around this time, WWE debuted their over-the-top streaming platform, the 'WWE Network.' Sheehan now had hours and hours of wrestling to watch. He just needed a wrestle buddy to watch with him.

"Simone answered the call immediately. Good wrestling is good storytelling and we both love good stories. There're well-developed characters, a battle between good and bad, and superhuman feats of strength and coordination. Plus, tons of hunks. What's not to love?" Sheehan said.

They would spend Wednesday evenings together watching WWE's developmental brand 'NXT' on the Network, drinking seltzer, eating nachos, and cementing their newfound friendship, while saying that one day they would go see WWE's marquee event, WrestleMania, together.

"Aaron is one of my best friends. We became friends fairly easily, and it was even easier to make plans together once we found out we had wrestling in common," Perry said.

The two attended a WWE Raw event together, just like Perry did with her family almost two decades earlier.

Sheehan, 27, though, would have to move away from his new best friend. He lived on the West Coast for a bit until moving back to the Philadelphia area a year and a half ago.

When he was in Portland, Oregon in 2016, Sheehan didn't hesitate to fly back to Cleveland to see the WWE Fastlane pay per view event. It was a birthday gift from Perry.



"I flew from Portland to Cleveland to see Brock Lesnar throw grown men around, as wrestle buddies should," Sheehan said.

But no matter where they were, the two kept in contact with each other, always discussing the ongoing saga of the scripted, athletic world of pro wrestling, as well as the latest developments of life itself.

"Our friendship goes a lot deeper than wrestling, but wrestling has always been the anchor. When we were living in different places and hadn't talked in a little while, we were always each other's go-to for anything happening in the world of wrestling. Those conversations would always strike deeper, more meaningful ones, but it was always our common bond," Sheehan said.

Despite being apart, they continued to say one day they would make it to WrestleMania together.

Then came the news of Perry's cancer. No longer was the main topic of conversation just concerning Ronda Rousey's impressive debut or A.J. Styles' history making title reign. It was about reality.

"Obviously, finding out someone you love is sick sucks. It was tough for me to keep my head on straight early on, but Simone's positivity and normalcy about life made it much easier to stay afloat," Sheehan said.

Perry says she's doing well and her condition is stable as of now.

"I started treatment about a month ago and my lab work so far has been positive," Perry said.

Not only did Perry have the support of her family and friends when she learned of her diagnosis, she also had the love of her life Michael Luciano.

The two had met at their workplace. Perry's coworkers had told Luciano all about her.

"He was told I loved monster truck rallies and pro wrestling and that's when he decided to try and talk to me. The bond was pretty instantaneous," Perry said.

The wrestling connection made them fast friends, and they soon fell in love.

The two were planning for a wedding later in 2019 when Perry was told of the doctor's findings. The couple decided to push up the date to last month, just a few weeks after the diagnosis.

"After hearing about the adenocarcinoma and my staging, we chose to expedite things a bit. We have both been so fortunate to have our families with us through the process. When we told them our plans to get married on a whim, they were extremely supportive. They've continued to be through the whole process," Perry said.

And when the wedding day came, Perry's wrestle buddy Sheehan was in attendance.

He had anxiously made the drive from Philadelphia to Cleveland, knowing this would be the first time he'd see his best friend since her diagnosis. He was worried, especially with her quick decision to get married right away.

But after being there, Sheehan says the wedding was an example of Perry's toughness - "she got married in single digit temperatures the day after a blizzard!"

"It was a beautiful and emotional, albeit bitterly cold ceremony. They had everyone meet them at a city park in Cleveland, literally walked us over a river and through the woods in ankle deep snow to a spot that meant a lot to them. We shoveled out a spot to put a camera tripod and they got married in front of a group of close friends," Sheehan said.



Unlike many wrestling weddings that end up with broken tables, screaming brides, and interfering antagonists, this ceremony went off as planned.

It was also the first time Sheehan met Luciano, the man who won the heart of his best friend and is by her side every day. It did not take long for Sheehan to realize that Perry had chosen wisely.

"Michael is a great support. He's fearless and caring and right there with Simone for every step. Knowing that kept my worries largely at bay," Sheehan said.

After the wedding, thinking about the newlyweds, Sheehan came to a realization. He was done with talks of 'one day the wrestle buddies will go to WrestleMania.'

He was done waiting.

This WrestleMania would be the one, he decided.

"WrestleMania for us was always a friendship. Going to WrestleMania as a wrestling fan is like going to the Super Bowl as a football fan, except your team is in it every year," Sheehan said.

WrestleMania, which had its beginnings at Madison Square Garden in 1985, has become a pop culture event bringing wrestlers, entertainers, and sports stars together in a stadium for a five-hour plus extravaganza each spring. Last year in New Orleans, WrestleMania broke the Mercedes-Benz Superdome's record for highest-grossing entertainment event with a record $14.1 million.

This year, WrestleMania will return to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey for its 35th edition.

"WrestleMania is absolutely on my bucket list of things to do while I still can," Perry told 6abc.com.

MetLife Stadium is packed with fans as they watch the WWE Wrestlemania 29 event Sunday, April 7, 2013, in East Rutherford, N.J.



Knowing how much it would mean to her, Sheehan set up a GoFundMe page on Feb. 8 to send Perry, her husband, and himself to WrestleMania.

He enlisted the expertise of Bridgid Tatlow, a Philadelphia teacher and consultant, to help craft the page and get their message across.

He called it "WrestleMania Honeymoon."



"The purpose of this GoFundMe is to celebrate life and love in the face of a cancer diagnosis by giving my friends the honeymoon of their dreams; Wrestlemania," the page reads.

Sheehan wrote of his friendship with Perry, their love for wrestling, their unbreakable bond across long distances, and the wedding that was as abrupt as it was beautiful.

Sheehan set the goal at $7,500, saying all the funds will go to the newlyweds for three tickets to WrestleMania (he is coming along to fulfill the dream), travel between Cleveland and New York, lodging, medical expenses, and assistance for the couple's two dogs, three cats, and snake.

Also, some money will go to "nachos & seltzer, souvenirs, candy, sparkles, and rainbows."

Perry was apprehensive at first when hearing about Sheehan's GoFundMe idea. But after talking it over with her husband, they saw it as a wonderful gesture from an important friend, and a way for people to share in their wedding festivities sans registry.

"Michael and I had not set up a registry, mostly because we wanted our friends' company at the wedding above everything else. We thought the GoFundMe would be a solid alternative for people who were looking to offer us a gift. It turned into something we couldn't even imagine," Perry said.

Within hours, the GoFundMe page reached nearly $5,000.

"It's been beautiful to see familiar and unfamiliar names on the list of people donating and to see that it's been shared a ton over different outlets. It's really hard to put into words but the overall feeling is gratitude. It feels good to have support when you want to do nice things for people you care about. This kind of support though is completely next level," Sheehan said.

Like Sheehan, Perry has been blown away by the response - including one donor, a fellow restaurant employee, who offered to buy the couple flights.

"The response has been such a shock to all of us. The friend who offered to pay for airfare is someone we both know through work. Never would we have asked for or expected such a generous gift, but I think that speaks to the character of the friend who offered the flight. He has an enormous heart, and we are so thankful for what he's offered us," Perry said.

With the fundraiser reaching close to $6,000, Perry posted the following message on the GoFundMe page to everyone who has contributed or is thinking about it:

"First of all, we don't even know what to say. It has been a little over five days and the campaign that Aaron set up on our behalf has already nearly met its goal. We can't express enough how much we appreciate the support, and even if we don't meet the goal, we can say, at the very least, we get to go to WrestleMania. We couldn't get there without your help, and for that we are so thankful.

Any remaining funds will be going directly to medical expenses, supplementing lost income from previous hospital admissions, and a donation to the Cleveland Clinic.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. The love we have felt from everyone--whether or not you could support the campaign, whether or not we know you--has been greater than we could anticipate."

Thanks to Sheehan, his best friend's story is now known to many others around the world.

It's the story of a determined, optimistic wrestling fan who is not going to give up.

"For as long as I've known Simone, I've never seen her take any s---. She's the first person to offer help when you need it and the last person to leave when you need company. She's compassionate to all: human, vegetation, and animals. She has a strong sense of what is right and will fight as hard as she possibly can for it. She's faced a lot of difficult things in life already, which makes this illness just another thing to step up and beat," Sheehan said.

It may sound like a familiar pro wrestling storyline, a beloved hero fighting back in the face of adversity, but for Simone Perry and her wrestle buddy, it's as real as it gets.

LINK: WrestleMania Honeymoon GoFundMe

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