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Nergal Speaks! The Behemoth Frontman Talks About His Battle With Leukemia, Part One

Nergal Speaks! The Behemoth Frontman Talks About His Battle With Leukemia, Part One

Early last August, Adam “Nergal” Darski—the frontman of the Polish extreme-metal group Behemoth—announced he had been diagnosed with leukemia. His band was still touring for their Evangelion album, released a year earlier, and this put a stop to Behemoth’s tour. Since then, fans of his band have followed his obstacles and progress. He desperately needed a bone marrow transplant by late August. His then-fiancée, Polish pop singer Doda, offered hers but wasn’t a match. Fans began organizing bone-marrow drives to raise leukemia awareness over the next couple of months. Nergal got a bone-marrow match by early November, and he underwent a transplant the next month. Nergal left the hospital in January, only to return the next month for a short time, and has been on the road to recovery ever since.

The timing couldn’t be better. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Behemoth, and the band plans to play its first concerts this October, as well as to release an authorized biography. Behemoth are also planning on touring the U.S. next spring. Yesterday, Nergal spoke with Revolver while he was in southern Poland, visiting friends, about everything he had gone through—from the initial stages of his illness to the first time he picked up a guitar again—and we are posting his interview in two parts. Click here for the rest of our interview.

REVOLVER How are you feeling today?
NERGAL I’m very good. The weather is just getting nicer and nicer here. It’s just getting beautiful, and I’m just enjoying it. I'm enjoying my time off before the whole crazy [touring] cycle starts over again.

What’s you current health status?
It’s been over a hundred days after the bone-marrow transplant. You have to be very careful and very sensitive about everything during that time. You must not mix with big crowds, because of infections and bacteria in the air and shit like that. You have to be very careful about your diet. There are very few things you can eat, basically. And of course, no alcohol and no raw meat. Now that that period is over, I’m basically enjoying myself. After this interview, I’m going to join my friends and have a beer, maybe have some French fries. I wasn’t allowed to eat junk food, so I’m actually really hungry for that kind of stuff. Anything that was restricted is just so tasty to me nowadays.

Basically, I’m discovering all these over again. Enjoying it. I have to take these drugs that basically lower my immune system, so that the bone marrow can adapt in my body. After this period, it’s going to be another chapter of recovery. Basically with time, when all my blood tests are OK and stuff, and my bone-marrow tests are OK, it’s just going to develop in a better way.

How do I feel? I feel pretty fucking awesome. There are some little things that are kind of frustrating. Basically, stomach problems and stuff like that. Other than that, I’m pretty strong. Every week I feel stronger and better and stuff. All good, all good.

It sounds like you’re in good spirits.
Yeah, totally. Basically everything is going according to the plans. There were no delays with the chemo, and radio therapy, and the transplant. The way it was planned in August or September, everything happened according to the plan set by my doctors. I know that I’m pretty lucky, but on the other hand, I know that my attitude towards the sickness also determined the result. You have to keep the spirits high, and even though it can be challenging and painful, you have to keep yourself motivated and not believe in success at the end of the road but basically be 100-percent sure that everything will be fine as it was before.

When did you know you had a health problem?
I believe it was in June. It was right before we left on a European tour with Decapitated. I just started having goosebumps all over my head, and I didn’t know the origin of it. I thought it was some kind of skin disease. I was thinking maybe I brought it from some exotic country. I was in Japan before, and I was in Australia a few months earlier. But I was fine, I just had these bumps on my head and diarrhea. All the time it was diarrhea, and it was kind of suspicious. But I just took it easy and was kind of like, OK, maybe this is going to go away. Maybe it’s the shitty food on tour.

I came back to Poland after the tour, and then I left for Greece for vacation two days later. It was really hot there, but I was having fevers every day. Every time I’d wake up every morning, my whole bed would be covered in water. It was sweat all over, and I was just getting weaker and weaker every day. I was like, Shit, this is something serious. I need to take care of it ASAP. When I was still in Greece, I started calling doctors and surgeons. They said, “Without blood tests, we can’t tell you anything.” So after I came back from Greece I felt kind of shitty, and I had breathing problems. And I decided, I have to go to the hospital immediately. So I went to the hospital as soon as I performed at two concerts. I did one with Behemoth and one as a guest vocal with some band. They hardly happened because I was in such bad shape. But somehow I did it. I faked a lot. I couldn’t fucking sing, but I faked it. After that, I just traveled across the country and just went to the hospital. After three or four days in the hospital, they moved me to another hospital where they diagnosed me with leukemia.

Did you ever find out the cause of the leukemia?
There was no cause. No one in my family has had cancer. If it’s not in your genes, it’s not really possible to guess the cause. It could be anything. It could be nerves, it could be a stressful life. You know Chernobyl [in Ukraine, where a nuclear power plant melted down in 1986]? We had the same stuff back in the ’80s in Poland, and there was a radioactive cloud that went over Poland. This radioactive cloud came through Poland, and some doctors say that might be the cause of it, too. But no one can tell you 100 percent what was the cause.

You were in the hospital for a long time waiting for a marrow donor. How were you feeling while you were waiting?
Basically, I didn’t feel that bad. I had some OK periods, and I had some shitty periods. It depends. When I was on steroids, it was OK. It was bearable. The only problem was I made a lot of energy because of the steroids that I took, so I had to eat a lot and I was growing fat. My face changed and everything. I was just so full of water. It was scary to look in the mirror in the morning. But other than that, I was doing OK.

When they gave me chemo, I took it pretty well. There was no side effects. Some of the chemo caused some shitty days. I could hardly walk, but it could have been much worse. Seeing other patients and people dying and stuff, man, I was really lucky. My sickness was an aggressive form—it was very fast, it was invading my body rapidly. But at the same time, my body reacted really, really well to the chemo. So basically after the first dose, the cancer was 50-percent gone. My bone marrow was just a few percent of the cancerous cells that were left in the bone marrow. The doctors were very, very optimistic about the way it was developing and the way of the cure. And I was optimistic, too. It took me six months altogether, with the chemotherapy and the radiotherapy and the transplant to get healthy basically—to get new bone marrow and go back home and start recovery. It was really fast in compared to other patients and other cases. It was fast.

Read part two here.

Photo by Maciej Boryna

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