Kelly Lemieux – Buckcherry ‘#FuckCancer: I Am Not Fucking Done Yet’

Earlier this year I had an exclusive chat with Buckcherry bass player, Kelly Lemieux. This conversation came about through a snippet of my interview with frontman Josh Todd. If you aren’t aware of why or how this interaction came to be and the circumstances surrounding it; please let me fill you in. Back in 2016, Kelly was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), which is cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

He underwent some pretty serious treatment and is now proudly cancer-free with no signs of remission.

Kelly is a humble, grateful and inspiring human. This is evident in his upfront candid chat. I am super proud to share his story here. It is a conversation that happened within an hour of reaching out to him and I thank him for sharing this often very scary journey.

What I love about this very open and honest conversation with Kelly is his positive mental attitude throughout his fight. Kelly’s determination to not let cancer beat him is meaningful, motivational and most of all touching. We can all learn a thing or two from his fighting nature…

Hey Kelly, how are you doing my friend? Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with me.

You’re welcome Andrew; thank you for reaching out. I’m great, doing really good. We have just started the tour for the new record Warpaint, we are about two week in and it’s going good.

Congratulations on the Warpaint record, it’s fantastic! I guess the main reason for this chat though is to talk about your cancer journey. It was something that I raised with Josh Todd in an earlier interview, and I just happened to ask how you were doing and how your recovery was.

That was so very cool, thank you. The funny thing is that a buddy of mine who is an ER doctor in Sacramento, he actually saw that piece and sent that to me. I saw it and read it, it was like oh WOW, this is cool. I have had so much awesome positive support from people and really felt the love. I like to post every now and again just to let everyone know their positive vibes, their positive mental thoughts and prayers, or anything they wanted to use was not wasted on me. I am really grateful and super happy. There was a point there where I wasn’t sure I was going to have another birthday, but here I am, we have a new record out and I am out on the road doing what I love.

Last night I had one of my basses mysteriously fall over. I have a pretty good idea what happened and no one is really fessing up to it. The club owner is like; well you can’t prove that happened; so I am as we say in the US, so I’m kind of eating a dick on that.

When you first called me I was jumping through hoops trying to sort that, a backup bass, as I only brought two basses on this run because generally, they don’t fall out of the guitar boats even when they are strapped in and crack the neck on it. But even after all of that stuff it’s just US$1500 out of my pocket, I’m still alive. You know karma is karma and a bitch is a bitch (laughs). But it puts things into perspective, I am just grateful to be here. I am still grateful there is still a Buckcherry. I love what I do, I love the guys in the band and I am really happy that everything just worked out.

For a while there things didn’t look so great. I had gotten out of the hospital, I have moved up my first round of chemotherapy just because I wanted to get back out on the road because the band was what really kept me going through all of that. I just remember sitting in the hospital room thinking to myself all right dude, you don’t know what the heck is going on, I know what I have to do, but I don’t know the outcome is going to be. I was sitting in the hospital, playing my bass. I was in there for a month; it’s a very aggressive chemo process to battle leukaemia of the blood for anyone who doesn’t know is a blood cancer. It not like they can just focus treatment on one spot or give you radiation so the chemo is very, very aggressive. They gave me two bags of chemo treatment for two days that is how aggressively they have to attack it. I didn’t know what to expect honestly, was I going to get through it; I was hopeful and positive, my doctor said you are young, you are healthy. The doctors did a run of my DNA and fortunately it meant that I was in the top tier percentile for it to go into remission and stay in remission.

I have learned that in life a lot of positive mental attitude is essential in getting through these tough things. I remember just laying there in my bed thinking, you know what I am just not done playing bass yet. I love playing music, I love playing bass. Bass is the only instrument that I have ever played, I wasn’t one of those guys who first played guitar or started on drums only for someone to say we need a bass player. I always wanted to play bass. It was preordained, I don’t know because even when I was a kid before I knew what the musical instruments were, I knew that instrument was the smaller one, the one that Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley play, but I really love the sound of that low one man, that’s my thing right there. I have always loved the sound and the feel of bass; for me it was the power behind it.

All through my treatment I said to myself you know what I don’t think I’m done playing bass. I am going to do this, I am going to have a positive mental attitude and I am going to kick the shit out of this cancer. I received the diagnosis on June 8 or 9 of 2016 and was back out on tour in October. When I came back for that five to six week tour the band morale was not great. I know they were happy to have me back but it was winter and there was a heavy scene that I came back to. At the end of that tour the band almost broke up, luckily it didn’t. I was like cool I’m back ….. But now I might be out of a job or a band that I love playing in (laughs). It was a what in the heck moment. (laughs) Fortunately everyone stuck it out, here we are and we have a new record out for which I am completely grateful.

I get my blood tested every four months now and I just got my two year clean bill of health. Every time I go in for these tests I am always super grateful. I make sure I visit the oncology ward that I was on, I look for the nurses to see who is working, and there are a lot of nurses that work there, but there are so many people in there with cancer it is crazy. Every month I know or hear of somebody with cancer, it really is insane. If we ever get any time off I have an AC/DC cover band that basically does all of the Bon Scott era stuff. I have a killer band and those nurses would come to all of those shows, it was so amazing. Nurses work hard and they also party hard (laughs). All these hot nurses would show up, get their drink on and rock out to AC/DC, it’s pretty awesome, so I make sure I always go and say hi when I’m there.

I can’t begin to imagine that initial mindset or place your mind goes to upon being told you have blood cancer. What was your initial understanding upon being told?

The funny thing is we had a six day break and they sent me to urgent care because I had bronchitis. They gave me zpac and all this stuff and I was like this stuff isn’t working, there is something going on here, something isn’t right. I lost Mom to cancer and I know her side of the family is very susceptible to it. Her father had a little bit of bladder cancer which he had removed twice, my uncle Ike had a really bad, crazy cancer, I think it was melanoma of the spine, they gave him six months to live and he fucking beat it! He went all organic and beat it so I was like OK I’m not going to eat this shit. I went in on a Monday, Tuesday I went and got a root canal (laughs)which was silly but kind of lucky that I did it then because I would have been able to do it after that. Wednesday I remember laying in bed thinking I’m getting really worried because this bronchitis just isn’t going away. I thought I had some weird Euro flu because it was going around as it does that time of year, so I was like I don’t feel right. Wednesday around three in the afternoon I got a call from the hospital and they were all chipper on the phone as they do making you fall into a sense that everything is groovy (laughs). The call went down like this. “Hey Kelly it’s Janice from Providence health provider and we got your test results in and we would like you to come in today”; mind you, we were due to go back out on the road that Friday. I just looked at my girlfriend and mouthed to her “I’m fucked!” and she just stared at me. So I reply to the nurse “when do you want me to come in?” and clinics they aren’t usually open all hours of the night and she says to me “how about 6PM” I replied to her “have you got anything sooner?” We have one in twenty minutes; my response was ‘I will be there!”. I grab my keys and I race down there, the staff there were all like skipping and Oh hey, wow, you play music, great we love Buckcherry. I get into the doctor’s office and it gets really quiet and she says let’s talk about your test results. Okay let’s talk about them, at this stage she is making me pull fucking teeth to get a fucking answer out of her. I ask her “not good?” she replies “No not Good!” and then just stares at me, I’m sitting there going you fucking twat. So I look at her and ask so it’s like cancer not good? She goes yes; you have AML Leukemia and hands me this sheet I look at it and ask her “Are you fucking kidding me?” and she simply says no I’m not. “But we are going on tour in two days!” To which the doctor replied, “You are going to the Hospital at 8:30 tomorrow morning, you are getting a bone marrow biopsy, your doctor is John Godwin, he is a great doctor. You are not going anywhere”. “Fuck!!!! ….. are you fucking kidding me!!” I was so fucking pissed!! Anyway I gotta do what I gotta do and I go. My girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend) is just sitting in the waiting room, I grab her hand, walk to the car without saying a word, I look at her and go you know what I have AML Leukemia. At this stage we had only been dating for around six months; I turned to her and said “this is going to be really gnarly and I don’t know what is going to happen, but if you don’t want to deal with this I totally respect that and you can bounce and I am not going to get mad”. She looked at me and without hesitation said: “Fuck that I’m not going anywhere!” In my mind I’m going …. all right either you really love me or you are really stupid or both (laughs).

To make a long story even longer, I go in on the Thursday morning and we start all of that wacky business. It was pretty brutal, I’m not going to lie and I did it. I went into remission after that first three or four weeks, whatever it was. I’m probably going to get him in trouble, maybe not, but I wasn’t meant to be an outpatient for the last three rounds.

Let me break it down for you like one of the nurses did for me. Here is how blood cancer works. Your blood is the garden; the garden is filled with all kinds of good things, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, all beautiful vegetation and then there are the weeds; and the cancer is the weeds, and the weeds start killing all the good stuff. So in effect, the chemo is a giant rototiller that goes in there and destroys everything and then we go in there and re-water the garden and see what grows. If the weeds don’t come back you are good. The treatment puts you on the verge of death. You have what is known and nutrafills in your blood and a normal person has fifteen hundred to five thousand of them, I think that’s the right figure, but at one point I was down to absolute zero. I had nothing to fight anything, if I was to get sick there was nothing there. When I walk out into the oncology ward I had to put a mask on. I didn’t get to go outside for about two and a half weeks and when I did they had to put me in a wheelchair, put a mask on me. I was like; I don’t need a wheelchair, when in actual fact I did (laughs). I could barely walk, alright you were right (laughs)

I had to go for three more rounds of chemo, one on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My doctor was so cool he would let me go home on the Tuesday, be back early on the Wednesday, check out on Thursday and check back in early on Friday and then go home on the Saturday. From there I had to stay at home until all of my nutrafills came back up. If I went out in public I had to stay away from kids, animals, sick people, so I got a lot of cabin fever. I still had the pick lines in my arms, they have a phlebotomist go in there and they insert these two connected but separate teeny tint tubes that would have caps on the end of them and they would dangle down my arm. I would have to shower around it, bandage it up. They wanted to give me a pump where the heart is, but these pick lines go down the major artery in your arm. It’s funny now because with me being on the phone my elbow bent and my leather jacket is kind of pinching my bicep, I can feel a little bit of pain every now and again from where the pic line went in and last one that went in there was two and a half to three years ago back in 2016. If they needed to give plasma, or they needed to give me blood or give me chemo they would just unscrew those caps and hook whatever they had to on. Those pic lines went all the way up my arm past the bicep into just above the valves of your heart which means that it pumps straight into your heart. This way they don’t end up destroying all of your veins like the used to. In the 80’s if you survived any of the infusions in treating cancer in the eighties, chances are they would damage your heart and veins so badly that even though you didn’t have cancer, you would have zero energy for the rest of your life. When you think of it the eighties wasn’t really too long ago and treatment and medicine have really come so far in a very short amount of time. Sure it was a lot of in and out of hospital. I was really focused; I played my bass, hung out with my friends and did what I had to do. It’s insane to think that I was back out on the road after only four and a half months.

I have so much respect for you after hearing what you went through and how you were able to keep such a positive mental headspace in getting well. I imagine it could have been a whole different recovery story if you accepted AML as your fate.

Walking around the oncology department, I would pop my head around and look in people’s rooms just to see how others were doing and I noticed I was one of the youngest people in there. Its funny one of the nurses actually lives in the neighbourhood and we run into each other all the time, this one time we were at the post office. While we were chatting and she was asking how I was doing, she said to me: “You know all the nurses used to fight over who would get your room”. This was for me a no way moment (laughs) “Seriously?” and the nurse said “Oh yeah; we used to battle over who got your room, because everyone else was so old and you had tunes pumping and people over”. Looking back at it I was like fuck this I am having a party minus any of the partying things (laughs). People were stopping by, bringing me food, stuff that I could actually eat. I couldn’t eat sushi which I love because there could have been a risk of infection so it really did put a hamper on what I could and couldn’t eat.

A big part of my strength and determination to kick cancer’s ass was that I love playing music so much and I am not fucking done yet. Cancer wasn’t going to keep me from the one thing I truly love to do in life.

My knowledge of your playing goes all the way back to the Electric Love Hogs record from 1991, which to this day still gets a regular spin.

Oh man you must be old! (laughs) seriously I’ve gotcha by a couple of years (laughs), but man it’s funny that you know that record. That’s awesome you know it. Very cool. You would also know that I played in Goldfinger for a few years. John Feldmann who was the singer for Electric Love Hogs is actually the singer in Goldinger. Dave Kuchner went on to join Velvet Revolver and Bobby Hewitt the drummer ended up playing in Orgy.

It’s just crazy how the whole Electric Love Hogs member’s story evolved, and it’s even crazier to think that circa 2003 Josh Todd & Keith Nielsen almost ended up in an early version of Velvet Revolver too. People may not know this but you were involved with MD45, Dave Mustaine’s side project. Is there anything else that I might have missed career-wise?

After MD45 I played in Fear for about 3 years and I also played in the band 22 Jacks for a while and my replacement was CJ Ramone, which is pretty funny. Damn you guys, you had to replace me with a Ramone you fuckers! (laughs)

Your journey with Buckcherry started with you being a touring player after Jimmy Ashhurst parted ways with the band in 2013. Shortly after their initial run of Confessions shows in Australia. How soon after the Australian Tour did you end up joining?

You know we did come back at the end of 2013 and did another run of Confessions shows with Steel Panther in that December. But as far as when I started playing in Buckcherry. That would have been early October 2013.

Post your diagnosis and treatment of AML were there any lifestyle changes you had to make?

At first no; at first I was like fuck you cancer I beat your ass, I’m eating everything, I’m doing anything I want to do, fuck off! (laughs) I was eating ice cream every day because they wanted me to put weight on again, so I kept that whole fuck you mentality and then I started getting fat…….ish; I was like ooohhhh shit. (laughs) But now I don’t eat any factory farmed meat anymore, I am basically a pescatarian for the most part and I am the guy on the bus who asks for tofurkey sandwich meat instead of ham or pork on the bus. Basically I haven’t had any steak or Pork since I started being conscious of these foods. If there is a little piece of it in a soup, that’s ok, but as a rule, I have cut those things out all together. A friend of mine made some deer jerky, and I love jerky. I did have one piece of it, I chewed about an eighth of it and then spat the rest of it out, but it was so damn good. I try to watch my food intake and be really smart about what I eat, but it’s not always easy when you are touring, but I try and get as much organic food as I can now. I don’t drink; I haven’t had a drink for nearly fourteen years now, but in Oregon, Marijuana has just become legal. I hadn’t smoked in eleven years or so. But the chemo was so hard on my system, during treatment I was just dragging so hard, and one of my friends who has back issues and had the medical card, pot at that stage had just become legal in recreational situations and he was like come with me, I have got the card, I get a discount and we will get you some stuff to try; maybe some edibles and see if it works. He got me one of the pens with the THC oil in it.

Anyway I live on the top floor of my apartment building. I was dragging ass barely able to make it up there, I was oh my god this sucks. He gave me the pen and I took a hit off it and I remember sitting on my bed and I took another little hit off it, all of a sudden, and I’m not kidding or trying to advocate marijuana or anything like that, I jumped up on my feet and went holy shit I feel like a different person and I cleaned my room. For me personally, for my chemo marijuana was a godsend. Now I try to do more edibles now if I do it, but I still don’t drink and haven’t done in fourteen years like I said earlier. I do use weed it’s not until the end of the night, if we are on tour I don’t touch it until the gig is over it’s like a little treat and occasionally I will be like damn it.

You know none of us in the band are exactly spring chickens and you gotta look good these days because we are competing with kids. I’m 52 and when I tell people that they can’t believe it and then when they find out I have been through cancer too, they are like what!!! I don’t know what it is, I am very blessed with good genetics which probably has a lot to do with it. My outlook; well I have always been a fighter, not in the physical sense, but if someone sends me a challenge I am like “Oh really?, I got you on this one” (Laughs)

Even in high school I was the smallest dude on my football team (American Football), usually the smallest guy out there. I don’t know if I’m crazy; but call it what you want gumption, veracity, tenacity I had it. I have always lived my life that way. I am grateful genetically to my parents, not so much on my Mom’s side, but I have a sense of humour about it. I was making the most twisted jokes about cancer while I was in the hospital (laughs), my friends were like what is wrong with you (laughs). What was I supposed to do? I wasn’t going to sit there and boo hoo, fuck it, if it fucking kills me (laughs). Another thing that really kind of helped and took the edge off my situation was that I watched my mom go through glioblastoma, which is a really aggressive brain cancer that basically grows tentacles. She had a golf ball-sized tumor that grew tentacles and wrapped itself around the vertebrae in her neck, which essentially was choking her to death. Upon being diagnosed she lasted seven weeks and then was gone, man that was so damn traumatic to watch and go through. That for me was harder to go through than my own journey with cancer, after all it’s you mom, I loved my mom, I had a great relationship with my mother,  watching her go through that just crushed me.

When I got diagnosed, I was like fuck this shit, I had a good run, I was 49 at the time and I had done more, seen more, travelled more than most. I have seen, done and had more fun than you could imagine with my bandmates, so much that it would still top fifty friends of mine combined aside from other touring musicians. If it ends here, it ends here, but god damn it, I love playing bass and I want to keep on doing it. Watching my mom go through that had already taken the sting out of it.

I think these days we all have our stories and have been affected by someone we love that has been dealt the evil hand that is cancer. For me, it was my grandfather who passed from pancreatic cancer. Aside from losing him to cancer, the hardest thing for me was watching what it did to my father figure/hero, how it just slowly took away the amazing human he was right in front of my eyes.

That kind of cancer is a horrible, initially you don’t feel it, you can’t see it, you can’t feel it and by the time you are diagnosed you are already stage four before you even think something is wrong and at that stage you can’t do anything about it. It’s so brutal; man I am so sorry for your loss.

What I have realized in talking to you is just what an inspiration you are, how humble and grateful you are for life and everything in it. Your story is incredible; your attitude and zest for life is a true credit to you.

Thank you, thank you, I really appreciate it!

Are there any words that you have for anyone that may be reading this and going through treatment for cancer?

Honestly, I don’t know. Fuck! I only know how I am and my story. My only advice would be to have a positive mental attitude and try to surround yourself with as many awesome people as you possibly can. That is and always has been my attitude to life in general. Sure I get crabby, you heard what I went through with my broken bass, but I get through it, there is so much more to life. For me having a PMA is essential, and I’m certain it is the key to life in general. In saying that I had made peace with it too, I sat there and told myself, I am grateful, I have amazing bandmates, family and friends. I couldn’t have been more proud or any happier with the love that people showed me. To be totally honest with you, that first time in hospital where I was there for a month, I didn’t once weep, I didn’t get poopy, I stayed positive. The very last night I was in the hospital, I had just found out I was in remission and was going home the next day I ended up talking to a buddy of mine Deen Castronova from the bands Journey & The Dead Daisies, who is also from my home town Salem.

Deen facetimed me on my phone, I was completely bald as my hair had fallen out and what hadn’t I shaved off, I had a hat on, I was sitting in my big rockstar hospital room; which I thought was because I was cool, only to find out that the longer and nastier your treatment is the nicer the room you get (laughs), and there I was thinking I was someone special (laughs). Deen was like where are you?, What’s going on with you? I hadn’t told many people what I was going through; so I explained to Deen that I was in the hospital in Portland, Oregon. All Deen could say is what is going on? I said ummm I’m in the hospital, I’m getting out tomorrow, I just went through treatment for AML Leukaemia and he just lost it! Why didn’t you tell me! To make a long story even longer, I was texting with him later and between him and all of my other friends they were like what do you need dude? Whatever you need I got your back, if its money I will give it to you, name it, it’s yours. I’m packing my things, my girlfriend is with me and I started just blubbering, but laughing at the same time; she was like why are you crying now? What’s going on? I was like everybody is just so god damn nice I can’t fucking stand it (laughs). I was just so completely overwhelmed and blown away by how fucking amazing everyone was. So when I saw that story, the extract from your piece, I actually told Stevie I need to repost this, but does it seem like it’s too much about me?  Stevie goes to me “Dude shut up, what are you talking about, go for it, repost that shit!”

I occasionally go on social media, and am always sure to post a picture of me and my doctor after having my blood work done. I thank him on the Warpaint record; my biggest thanks go out to my doctor and the staff at Providence in Portland. I don’t forget.

Thank you again for taking the time to chat with me so openly and honestly and in such detail Kelly, it has been an absolute pleasure. I know you have got to go get ready for a show, but again thank you..

You are so welcome, yeah I have to go, Josh is already warming up in the back lounge where my clothes and stuff are, so I have to go get them before he starts his vocal warm up so I don’t feel like a jerk (laughs). But thank you so much man, thank you for everything. I really appreciate it. See you in October.

Interview by Andrew Slaidins

Buckcherry‘s tour kicks off tomorrow. Find Kelly and give him a huge hug if you catch him floating about.

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Buckcherry – Australian Tour 2019
with Hardcore Superstar and Bad Moon Born

Oct 8th @ Rosemount Hotel, Perth

Oct 9th @ The Gov, Adel

Oct 11th @ Max Watts, Melb

Oct 12th @ The Zoo, Bris

Oct 13th @ Metro Theatre, Syd

Tickets Here

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1 Comment on Kelly Lemieux – Buckcherry ‘#FuckCancer: I Am Not Fucking Done Yet’

  1. Winnie Evert // October 8, 2019 at 12:18 am // Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story Kelly! Stay well and continue being positive! 💖

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