Pearl Jam survivor: Rocky River man rocks on after beating brain cancer

CLEVELAND - Earlier this month, six artists were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Among them; Pearl Jam, much to the delight of super-fan Bill Castrovince of Rocky River. His story really struck a chord with the band that helped him through the fight of his life.

About 5 1/2 years ago, Bill was diagnosed with brain cancer. But he beat the odds and has quite the story to tell.

In April 2016, Bill and his wife, Carolyn, were at a Pearl Jam concert in Tampa, when the band started to play their song, “Hard to Imagine.”

A couple weeks earlier, they had sent a Facebook message to the band with a picture of their baby girl, Olivia. It read, “Hi, Mr. Pearl Jam! My daddy beat brain cancer to make me, and he says you helped him – thank you! Our song is ‘Hard to Imagine.’ Can you play it in Tampa?! Love, Olivia Marie.” 

“They play that first lick and I'm like oh my God, they're going to play it! I'm like wow, somebody else must have requested this song, too,” Bill recalled.

It took a while for Bill to realize the song was, in fact, being dedicated to him.

“I heard him say brain cancer and I'm like wait a minute, somebody else had brain cancer and asked for this song.. wait a minute.. is this for real? Carolyn starts crying. I'm just floored.” 

It was a fitting song dedication, requested by a baby in a Pearl Jam onesie. A baby who not too long ago was truly "hard to imagine" for the Castrovinces.

“A miracle,” Bill said. “She's a miracle.”

At just 39 years old, Bill noticed he couldn't connect his thoughts. Then, while on his way to a Pearl Jam concert with his then-fiance Carolyn, he realized he couldn't speak. After getting some tests at University Hospitals, Bill got the news that changed everything.

“They said, you've got a tumor. And I said you're kidding right? You're joking. I've got to see Pearl Jam tomorrow in Toronto.”

It was grade 4 glioblastoma -- a malignant tumor with a 50/50 survival rate -- right on the part of his brain that controls speech. As an anchor and reporter for “High School Sports Insider,” Bill talks for a living. According to Doctor Andrew Sloan, who performed Bill’s surgery, getting that tumor out successfully was the only option.

“What we decided to do was do something called an awake craniotomy, with language mapping,” Dr. Sloan explained.

Yes, Bill was awake for this, acting as a partner during his own surgery.

“I know when I touched you and you couldn't say anything, that's called speech arrest,” Dr. Sloan told Bill during a recent follow-up visit.

“With his help, I was able to remove the entire part of the tumor that showed up on the MRI,” he said. 

Then came the radiation and chemotherapy. All of it was a success. That meant Bill and Carolyn's wedding could go on as scheduled. They kept their wedding date, walking down the aisle at the Old Stone Church in Cleveland a year later. In December 2015, they welcomed their "miracle baby,” Olivia.

“It was awesome,” Carolyn told News 5. “Starting out with what we had to deal with but then just kind of rolling into all the positive things... we were able to get married, we bought a house, had a baby, so everything.. we've been very blessed.” 

Something you'll notice about their house: In true super-fan fashion, it's full of Pearl Jam stuff, including posters, CD's, records and even the original set list from that unforgettable concert in Tampa. 

“I remember listening to this music before my surgery, so it kind of helps me try to get back to where I was,” said Bill.

And while he has come a long way, it's still a struggle. 

“Even now, I still get a little stuck on words and things like that, but it's so much better,” he explained. “It was so bad. They showed me a picture and they're like "what is this?" And I'm like, it has eight legs, it lives in the ocean, but I don't know what it is. I couldn't say octopus. I'll always remember octopus.”

Bill still goes in for regular scans, just to make sure the tumor doesn't come back. And when he's not running after Olivia or jamming out to Pearl Jam, he's still working three days a week doing what he loves for "High School Sports Insider."

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