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Gwar guitarist battling serious bone marrow disorder

Thursday, October 26, 2017 10:48 AM PT
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Gwar guitarist has bone marrow disease

Long-time Gwar guitar player Mike Derks, better known by his stage name, Balsac the Jaws of Death, was recently diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a serious bone marrow disorder sometimes classified as a chronic blood cancer.

According to Derks, if left untreated he will only survive 3-5 years. The curative treatment for the illness is stem cell transplantation, itself a dangerous procedure (with mortality rates as high as roughly 40%). Derks hopes to have the procedure in early 2018 and is currently in search of a matching donor. In the interim, he will continue to tour with Gwar, leaving the tour as needed to receive blood transfusions and related treatment.

Derks issued the following statement through a "virtual donor drive" at DKMS, a nonprofit organization that aims to match blood cancer patients with eligble donors.

"My name is Michael Derks, but I am more widely known by my stage name, BälSäc the Jaws 'o Death. I've spent the last thirty years behind a mask as the guitarist for the shock rock band GWAR. And that's where I'm comfortable, behind the mask. I am not someone who enjoys putting my life out for others to see on social media, and I do it now only because I know many people are concerned about me.

"This summer while I was out on the Warped tour, I began to experience extreme fatigue and weakness. Eventually it got to the point where the people around me insisted that I go to the hospital. I was treated for severe anemia, but extensive testing did not reveal a cause. When I got home, my hemoglobin levels continued to fall and the only course of treatment has been a series blood transfusions to keep my red and white blood cells from dropping to dangerous levels. I went for further testing at the Massey Cancer Center at MCV and the doctors there have diagnosed me with myelofibrosis, a disease that causes scarring inside of the bones and interferes with the marrow's ability to produce blood cells. If left to run it's course the doctors say I am most likely to only survive another 3 to 5 years. There is a treatment with a chance of curing my condition, a bone marrow transplant. This procedure involves destroying my diseased bone marrow with high doses of chemotherapy, and then replacing it with healthy marrow from a donor. I will hopefully have the transplant early next year. I will spend a month in the hospital and then at least a year in recovery, where my immune system will be practically non-existent. The procedure has a mortality rate of 30%, but the Massey Center has brought this down to around 15%. With my family's help and the support of my friends, I will beat this.

"Since the only thing I can do while the doctors try to find a matching donor is to get myself physically fit, I've decided to not let the impending hospitalization keep me from doing what I enjoy most, performing with GWAR. I will be joining them on the upcoming North American tour where we will be playing many of the songs from our new album, "the Blood of Gods", a record that I am prouder of than anything else I've put out in my 30 year career. I will be using labs across the country to monitor my blood over the next 2 months as we travel and will probably have to leave the tour at least once to come home for a transfusion, but as hard as the road can be, I look forward to the curative effect it can have on my soul. Everyone I have told about my condition have asked what they can do to help. I have teamed up with the incredible people at Love Hope Strength to offer a way for my friends and fans to not only help me, but all of the thousands of people out there in need of a bone marrow transplant. We are running a virtual drive to find donors to join the international registry of people willing to save a strangers life. So, please, if you are willing and able, become a donor today. There is no obligation, it will just allow you to find out if there is someone out there who's life you could save."
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Related:  Gwar, Mike Derks


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