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Gwar Guitarist Michael Derks Diagnosed With Rare Bone Marrow Cancer

Michael Derks of Gwar
Tim Mosenfelder/Corbis via Getty Images

Guitarist Balsac the Jaws of Death (Michael Derks) of Gwar performs as part of the Sounds of the Underground Tour at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. 

The longtime Gwar member, better known as BälSäc the Jaws 'o Death, has set up a virtual drive to find matching donors.

Michael Derks (stage name BälSäc the Jaws 'o Death) of Gwar is battling myelofibrosis, a rare form of bone marrow cancer. The disease "causes scarring inside of the bones and interferes with the marrow's ability to produce blood cells," he says.

Derks hopes to undergo a bone marrow transplant in early 2018. Without the procedure, doctors estimate he would survive only three to five years.

The guitarist shared details of his diagnosis in a statement posted to encourage others to donate bone marrow. He has teamed up with Love Hope Strength to find people willing to join an international registry of donors.

"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," he writes on a virtual donor drive website. "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."

Derks continues: "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."

"If left to run it's course the doctors say I am most likely to only survive another 3 to 5 years," he says. "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."

In the meantime, Derks plans to continue touring with GWAR in support of the band's album The Blood of Gods, which he is "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," he explains.

In a statement to Billboard, Derks writes: "I went public about my condition because I saw a chance for some good to come out of a bad situation. The chances of any two people being a match for bone marrow transplant are astronomically low. The best chance for a match is between siblings, but there are thousands and thousands of people in need of a transplant that have no viable biological relative and who's only hope is to beat those odds and find a match from the pool of donors.

"All it takes to become part of the registry of donors, is a simple swab from your mouth. The chances that you will match anyone (let alone matching me) are very small, but if you do, you could literally save the life of another human being. The process of donating marrow is not a painless one (I've had several bone marrow biopsies and they were not pleasant), but what you'd be giving is so priceless, isn't it worth some discomfort?

"I am hoping to have the procedure early next year and will be unable to tour while in recovery, which in the best case scenario will be all of 2018. It is difficult to be involved in the planning for GWAR's return to Australia next year and other shows that I know will not be able to participate in, but I have faith that my bandmates will not allow anyone to leave a GWAR show disappointed, no matter what incarnation of the band is on stage."