Hit The Lights: Behemoth Frontman On Leukaemia Battle: 'I Had To Face The Demon'

artist: Behemoth date: 05/06/2011 category: interviews
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Hit The Lights: Behemoth Frontman On Leukaemia Battle: 'I Had To Face The Demon'
In all walks of life, individuals face various trials and tribulations. At the flip of a coin, seemingly wonderful times can quickly descend into turbulent times. Rock and metal lore is chock full of tales proving just that, with some sad and some more positive. Luckily, Behemoth's mainman seems to have seen light at the end of the tunnel, the dark clouds gradually disappearing for the better. On August 25th, 2010, it was revealed that Behemoth frontman Adam "Nergal" Darski had been diagnosed with a life-threatening form of leukaemia, a cancer of blood-forming tissues of the bone marrow. Adam received treatment at the haematology division of the Gdansk Medical University Hospital for the disease, but it had progressed to the point that he was in need of a bone marrow transplant. Also, the vocalist underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy. By November 8th, it had been reported that a bone marrow donor that was a genetic match had been discovered. The bone marrow transplant occurred on December 17th, Adam spending the next month in an isolation room at the haematology division of Uniwersyteckie Centrum Kliniczne (UCK) in Gdansk to avoid any infection while his immune system was low. Early 2000's EPs "Conjuration" and "Slaves Shall Serve" are scheduled to be repackaged as one disc titled "Abyssus Abyssum Invocat", pencilled in for release on June 7th 2011 in North America. Behemoth recently held its first group meeting since Adam's bone marrow transplant procedure, with Polish dates due to take place in October, the first since the frontman became ill. On April 30th at 13:25 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned Behemoth frontman Adam "Nergal" Darski to discuss his leukaemia battle, and Behemoth's future. Adam "Nergal" Darski: Hello. UG: Hello. How are you Adam? I'm actually very good. Thank you so much. I'm just chilling out on a Saturday afternoon, just heading out with some friends of mine. A casual afternoon hobby, I would say. Would it be ok if we began the interview? Yeah, of course. Sure. First of all, would it be alright if we spoke about your recent medical troubles? Medical troubles? Yeah. What do you wanna know? How did you discover you were ill? The symptoms started two months prior to when I was diagnosed with leukaemia; I just had constant diarrhoea pretty much, and I was starting to feel weaker and weaker with every week. Also, I had goosebumps all over my head everywhere where hair was growing - there were goosebumps, and they were growing and growing. Initially I thought it was some kind of skin infection, maybe some kind of exotic disease that I might've brought from Asia. I had been in Japan before during that past year and also in Australia, so I was trying to figure out what it might be. I was wrong unfortunately though. I'd definitely go for some exotic disease instead of cancer, but hey, it happened to be leukaemia and yeah, I had to fucking face the demon. When you saw a doctor about your symptoms, they diagnosed you? Yeah, yeah. I went to an exotic diseases hospital, and they did all their tests. After three days, they sent me to the Oncology Clinic over here in Gliwice and I spent two days there. They basically drilled a little hole in the right side of my chest, and they put pretty fucking huge pipes in. My lungs were flooded all over with water. They didn't know what did that, but it was kept in my lungs. That was something that was making it difficult for me to breath normally, so I tried to get this water out of my lungs. In the meantime, the doctor came into my room and said that "Well...", what it was (laughs). It was pretty frightening, I would say. It was like a punch in between my eyes. It had a huge impact on me, yeah. Did having this water in your lungs make you feel as though you were drowning? No. There were just breathing problems; my breathing would just get heavier and heavier, and it felt like there wasn't enough air in my lungs to breath. Basically, when I was climbing up the stairs I would have to take a short break in between every section of stairs. It was weird, you know? At first I thought it maybe had a neurotic element to it, but then I figured out that I was wrong. It was leukaemia, and it started developing from there.

"It was pretty frightening, I would say. It was like a punch in between my eyes. It had a huge impact on me, yeah."

As soon as you were diagnosed with leukaemia, were you immediately informed that you needed a bone marrow transplant? No, no, no. Actually, no. At first I was treated with a dose of steroids, and basically after one week there was a good effect on my body - all my goosebumps were pretty much gone. Doctors said "We're doing this steroid treatment just to make you prepared for the first chemo treatment". They weren't a hundred percent sure that I would need a bone marrow transplant because at first they wanted to see how my body would react to the first chemo treatment. They said that if there was a good reaction and after let's say the first or second treatment I was fine - that there were no cancer cells in my bone marrow - then I wouldn't need it. After the second chemo treatment, they said that the sickness is regressing but basically that I'll most likely need a bone marrow transplant. When I went to the hospital, we didn't wait for a diagnosis. We didn't wait for them to tell us either I need one or not, but just started searching for one. I got in touch with BKMS, which is the biggest organisation that collects bone marrow in Poland. The German section is the core section of this foundation, but there's a Polish section here too. They've been collecting for years in Poland, and they have the biggest experience. My then girlfriend got in touch with them, and they started searching immediately. To be honest, we found one after three to four weeks. Actually, we found like three people that were a pretty good match for me so within a month, we were a hundred percent sure that I would be fine in the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario was that I would need a bone marrow donor. What were the side effects of the chemotherapy treatment like? I had several side effects. Some of them are a pain in the ass, like you may be sleepy or you may be throwing up. I wasn't really vomiting at all during chemo. It depends because every organism reacts differently, so you can't say that after chemo this and this will happen. Basically, you're getting weak. Just imagine the worst hangover and double it. It's not really bad for a couple of days, and then when your body adapts to the new circumstances it feels ok then. For me the first chemo treatment was the worst, and then with each next one it was pretty ok. I wasn't really complaining much; it was ok, it was bearable. Are you the same person you were before you discovered you had leukaemia? Or was it a life-changing experience? It was a life-changing experience - ask anyone who's gone through any kind of cancer. It's a life-threatening sickness. Basically, you're balancing on the edge of life and death. My friend just died two weeks ago, a friend of mine that I met in the hospital. He had been there two months prior to the first time I came to the hospital, and we became buddies. He just died two weeks ago, so you just realise how fragile real-life is and how easily it can be taken away from you. You definitely appreciate things more afterwards. If you just come out alive, you feel like "Wow". I'm appreciating pretty much every next day; I definitely do notice that I'm breathing, I do notice that I can walk, that I can smile and I can talk to people and I can meet up with friends. Life goes so fast these days; life is all about just running to places, and when we run we forget that life is all about, which is stopping for awhile and reflecting on your past, present and future. Just lead this life, and not just run - that's what I do these days. I just wake up and I take my time, man. I don't run anymore, I don't rush myself. I'm just happy for the fact I'm on this planet. Were you overwhelmed by the response from the metal community to your illness? I was, totally. I was shocked by how massive it was. I mean, the ball is still rolling and that is amazing. It started something; people started to realise what leukaemia is, and how dangerous it is. The statistics are merciless; with each year, there's more and more people getting sick from leukaemia. Pretty much anyone can get leukaemia, and I'm a perfect example. In a straight line - I'm talking about my parents and my grandparents - there were no cancer cases, so where the fuck this came from I don't know. The doctors don't know either. I just know it can happen to fucking anyone. It made metal people and the metal community realise first of all that they might lose another musician that they at least respect - some like our music. They thought "Wow, we've gotta do something". It was very humanistic, very sympathetic. They understood the situation and pushed for help, and the struggle for help was priceless. To be honest, I just can't wait to get back on the road. I bet I'll be out there in the crowd, in the audience every night, after the show just to talk to people about it and just to thank them in person. Shake their hands and say "Thank you so much for staying with me in such a harsh situation". I'm very thankful, that's for sure. So the doctors couldn't provide you with a concrete cause for your leukaemia? No, no, no, no. They can't, no. What was the bone marrow transplant procedure you underwent like? For those who aren't familiar with the procedure? Probably the majority of people imagine some big operative surgery which takes hours and hours, but it isn't. It's actually really fast; it takes up to one hour, and that's it. You just get the bone marrow, which is a liquid basically. It looks like watered-down blood - it's reddish, but it isn't dark red. And that's it. They inject it into your veins, and then it spreads through your body. You then wait for at least two weeks. You're getting weak and stuff, but you can handle it. You wait for at least two weeks until the bone marrow is actually adopted by your body. Sometimes it might be rejected so the first two weeks are pretty much essential, and then what happens afterwards is essential too, which sees how your body reacts to this new thing. You're hospitalised in the meantime for about thirty days after the bone marrow transplant. Sometimes it takes longer. It might also take about three weeks, but that's very seldom. The regular time for leaving the hospital after the bone marrow transplant is after up to six weeks I would say, if there's no complications. Then when you're released, you have to stay in very sterile conditions. You're not supposed to use the vacuum yourself. You got to keep your environment relatively clean, and there's a lot of diet restrictions. You're not allowed to eat a lot of stuff. Basically, you need to get your bowels used to all the basic products pretty much from scratch. Like milk; you're not allowed to drink milk for the first month, and yoghurts. No raw meat. A lot of stuff, a lot of shitty restrictions that basically limit your meals to fucking rice, to basically everything that's boiled. You can bake stuff, but no fried stuff. You've got to be very, very careful with your liver too, so no alcohol. You got to rest a lot, you got to sleep a lot, and so on. You can imagine; you're basically building up your system from scratch, and you've got to be very, very careful and just watch out for yourself.

"I have the best bandmates on the planet man; they're very supportive, and I know that they're people I can depend on."

Are you completely cancer-free now, or not? Well, ask me this question in six months and then if everything is fine and I totally believe that everything will be fine, then I'll tell you. If one year passes after my transplant and it's fine, then it's gonna be ninety-nine percent certain that I'm cancer-free. Judging by how I went through the whole treatment and judging by how the bone marrow was easily adopted by my body, all the signs pretty much tell me that I might not be worrying about my future. But then again, you never know (laughs). You can never be a hundred percent certain, but I'm very optimistic and I'm pretty much sure that everything is gonna be fine. You're currently taking medication related to your bone marrow transplant? Yes. In order to make your new bone marrow become well adopted by your body, you've got to lower your immune system so the new bone marrow can easily get accepted by your body. You're supposed to take this medicine for up to a year, maybe six months. I'm actually reducing my doses now - I'm taking one pill a day now plus some other pills. There's a lot of small stuff, and then this one important pill a day that you've got to take every morning. It's not much really. Is that the reason why Behemoth is waiting until October to return to performing live? In a word, I've been exercising and doing a lot of aerobics because of my muscles, and this can take until then. It's such a pain in the ass - you have to wake up every morning. I feel like I'm eight years old. It's pretty fucking difficult, but when I warm up, after ten to twenty minutes I start to feel better. I pretty much exercise every day; I've been exercising for two months now, and it's been four months since my bone marrow transplant. I feel relatively fine; I have no major problems with my health, with my body. There's some small stuff that isn't worth talking about really. I've learnt to live with it, and I'm just happy that everything is developing in the right direction. I have no complaints man. It's still six months until I return to the stage, so it's still a lot of time. I just hired a personal trainer, and I'm taking a lot of supplements. I'm taking a lot of vitamins, and things which make sure that my body is recovering faster than it would. It's fine. I'm really into getting back into shape, and I'm not waiting for miracles man. You've got to help yourself and push yourself to the limit. I imagine that there's people who wait one to two years until they get fine, but I'm not waiting for this. I want to help out my system for a fast recovery. Behemoth recently held its first meeting since your December 2010 bone marrow transplant. How did that meeting go? It went fine. I was hooking up with Inferno once in awhile, and I would meet Orion when I came down to Warsaw - he lives in Warsaw, and I live in Gdansk. I was meeting the guys occasionally here and there. We'd be on the phone pretty much every second or third day, so everyone was in the loop on what was happening. It was actually the first time that we all physically met since my operation though. No other people, no computers. We met in a small wooden convenience deep in the woods, so there was no mobile reception there. We were all just talking and having a good time, having a barbecue and just talking about the future of the band, setting out a plan for the next year and a half. Everyone seems to be getting into things again. It was a good experience man. Everyone's really into just going back on the road and playing again. It sounds as though Behemoth's members were very supportive of you during your ordeal. Totally, totally. I have the best bandmates on the planet man; they're very supportive, and I know that they're people I can depend on. I can tell you that they can depend on me even more than ever nowadays. I'm very thankful for being in the band. We are all individual. We are all pretty much different, but I'm really happy to see that we all speak the same language. During Behemoth's recent band meeting, what did you all collectively decide would be the future for the next year and a half for the group? First of all, we start rehearsing next month. We are basically refreshing the set list, and we wanna come up with the greatest and most insane show with crazy gear, pyro and all this stuff. After our so-called comeback - whatever, return to the whole touring thing - we want to make sure that people are gonna see the band's stronger than ever, and there's no question about that. We're coming back to dominate, and that's that. We're gonna take no prisoners. There's gonna be no compromise whatsoever, and that's the plan. We're gonna start touring in Poland. First we're doing just weekends just to warm up so to speak, and afterwards we will be touring Asia, Australia and some other crazy countries. I mean, we already have plans for a US tour, European tour - first a European tour and then a US tour. Then we wanna do Russia, then we're gonna do the festival season next summer. That's plenty of work, and in the meantime when we're rehearsing, there's gonna be a lot of new ideas and new stuff coming up too. There's no set-up for a new album yet because we need to get to know each other again, and get the chemistry back and so on. I can't predict if it's gonna happen in a month or in six months, but we're definitely looking towards making a new, exciting record, that's for sure. So it could be that if Behemoth jams on some new ideas next month and in the coming months during rehearsals, there'll be the seeds of a new record? Yeah. We'll see. Whatever happens, happens (laughs). Which songs are Behemoth considering playing at upcoming shows, songs the group have yet to play live? You mentioned how Behemoth is freshening the setlist. We want to keep the new setlist a surprise, but there's gonna be a lot of stuff that we haven't played live at all. There's gonna be a lot of stuff that we played ten years ago or six years ago, and there's gonna be a lot of stuff that we'll be playing for the first time ever. It's just super-exciting for both us and the audience. People will be like "Fuck, I never expected them to play that song or that song". We wanna keep it very fresh and inspiring and passionate, and that's what it's gonna be.

"We want to keep the new setlist a surprise, but there's gonna be a lot of stuff that we haven't played live at all."

Behemoth is due to re-release its early 2000's EPs 'Conjuration' and 'Slaves Shall Serve' as one disc, entitled 'Abyssus Abyssum Invocat'. Yeah. These EPs were a very diehard thing. This disc is gonna be really nicely packed and remastered and so on. These EPs have been sold out for a long time, and there's a new generation getting into this band. There's new people discovering Behemoth who want to own them. Some of them will dig it and some of them won't. If you got them already just ignore it, and just be patient and get ready for the next record. How would you describe the period of Behemoth in which those EPs were recorded? They were two different times, but I always say that both periods - especially the 'Demigod' (2004) period when the 'Slaves Shall Serve' EP was recorded - were so hectic man. We are the hardest working band on the planet, and that isn't gonna change (laughs). And finally Adam, what do you hope to achieve with Behemoth in the near future? Well first of all man, we are coming back and we are totally excited about it. This band has always been about expressing ourselves - we can always come and say pretty much whatever we want. When we faced the fact that we might've lost this forever, it made us realise how important the whole Behemoth experience is for us in our lives. It's the perfect combination of passion, aggression, fury, love and hate. You name it, and that's what Behemoth is for us. We fucking breathe and shit and eat it. It's the core of our lives, and there's nothing that can stop us now. Only health problems, but nothing else. We want to bring it back on the same track and just fucking roll with it as long as we can. As long as it takes, as long as we enjoy it, and as long as we need it. Behemoth is all throughout our lives, that's for sure. Do you have a message for those who sent you well wishes when you were ill? Come down to the shows man. I can't fucking wait to see you guys. I've always been addicted to the energy that these people give me and I wanna give it back, so please come down to the shows when we're around and fucking celebrate the new life of Behemoth. Thanks for speaking to me Adam. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it so much. I know the magazine. I really appreciate your time, and like I said, we owe you guys and we're gonna give it back for sure. Best of luck with Behemoth, and obviously, we're all hoping that things will be well with your health and everything Adam. Cheers bro. I appreciate it so much. All the best, and have a nice day. And you too. Bye. Bye. Interview by Robert Gray Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2011
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