Metal Health: D.R.I. Guitarist Spike Cassidy’s Cancer Horror Story

First his doctors told him he was crazy.

Then they told his family he was going to die.

Peter “Spike” Cassidy has been to hell and back since the day he suspected something was wrong with his health. As the guitarist for one of the most influential thrash metal bands he was not prepared for how this ordeal would turn his world upside-down.

I remember back in the late 80s my brother sent me a cassette with a bunch of heavy metal and punk rock bands he had recorded. I had heard of D.R.I. (Dirty Rotten Imbeciles), but had not really listened to them much. The cassette had the song “Nursing Home Blues” by D.R.I. on it. I couldn’t stop listening to that song. I love the guitar sound and the harsh, sarcastic vocals.

L: Kurt Brecht (lead singer) R: Spike

I later saw D.R.I. on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, a show where they played videos from the top heavy metal bands. They played D.R.I.’s “Suit and Tie Guy” and from there I was hooked.

Many of D.R.I.’s songs were about not “fitting in”. I could relate to that as I never really felt like I fit in, whether it was in school growing up or as an extremely obese adult.

Over the years I continued listening to D.R.I.. I had heard that Spike had been treated for colon cancer in 2006. My dad was diagnosed with colon cancer around the same time and had recovered as well. Later my dad would be diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. My father’s death convinced me to change my life and my health habits. Since my transformation I have been sharing my story and inspiring others to take charge of their lives and health.

Last year during my annual physical my doctor recommended that I have a colonoscopy because my dad had colon cancer. He gave me the referral, but I decided to put it off. I didn’t think it was worth my time yet and I could always go at a later date.

I got to see D.R.I. for the second time last year up in Massachusetts. Before they went on stage, I saw my friend, Adam, talking to Spike. I decided to go up to him and ask if he’d take a pic with me. I told him how my brother and I have been fans for over 30 years. He was a really cool dude and happily posed for some pics with me. That made my night. I wanted to ask him about his cancer experience but didn’t think the timing was right with them going on stage shortly. I was curious about how the whole ordeal had affected his outlook on life.

A few months ago I went to my doctor for a checkup and he again reminded me that I was due for a colonoscopy. I took the referral and told my wife that I would set up the appointment next month. The next day the colonoscopy doctor’s office called me and I took it as a sign to take an appointment.

I recently started a podcast show, Mike Inspires Me Podcast, about health and inspiring stories. I have been interviewing people who have had overcome health challenges and other inspiring people. I wanted to talk to Spike to see if he’d be willing to share his cancer story. Spike said that he was not fond of recorded interviews but was happy to share his story in writing. I was blown away by what he told me.

Mike:
It affects so many people. I have a friend going through chemo right now and it’s kicking his ass. Cancer doesn’t discriminate.

Spike:
Correct. I myself knew I had something wrong and told my doctor about it. He told me I was fine and never even took my temp or blood pressure.

Got a new doctor, and he did the same. No one ever even touched me, much less took blood or did a test. This went on for years, until finally after telling another doctor about the whole story of no one listening or testing me for years.

He said, “You should go see someone.”

I said, “I am, I’m here. I am seeing you!”

He said, “No, I mean a shrink, a psychiatrist. It’s all in your head.”

And I started to believe him.

A year later I moved from California up to Washington. Got a new family doctor within a month or so. Went to see him and told him the same story of how I thought there was something wrong, and no one bothered to even take a blood test, or much less my temperature or blood pressure.

Right away, he said, “Well let’s run some tests.”

A week later I was told I had terminal cancer, and if I had would of been tested sooner they would of caught it in time.

Luckily they were wrong about that too. I was not terminal yet. I had scars on my liver that they thought was the cancer spreading to my other organs. But, it was just from the tumor rubbing against them.

They actually did catch it just in time, and I survived.

Mike:
Wow. That’s some heavy stuff being told you’re crazy, then being told you’re terminal.

It also proves my point to people that we have to advocate for our own health and challenge doctors when something doesn’t seem right.

Spike:
Yes! You can share that story if you wish… to prove the point.

Mike:
Thank you

Did you know that studies have shown that being told you’re terminal actually causes people to die (even if they are not)?

It’s called ‘transference’.

Spike:
No. But believe it. If you think you are going to die, you give up trying to live..

Mike:
That’s why we need to be careful about what we believe about ourselves and allow to affect us. it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Dude, thanks for sharing. I appreciate the chat. I’ll let you know when I draft something up and run it by you before putting out there.

Spike:
It’s all good Mike! No worries!

Unfortunately stories like Spike’s are not that uncommon. People need to take charge of their own health and advocate for themselves. The majority of doctors have the best intentions to help people, but in today’s medical world doctors don’t have the time or resources to spend doing a thorough diagnosis. This leads to missing critical issues or misdiagnoses. And in Spike’s case the mental trauma he had to endure, first being told it was all in his head, then being told his condition was terminal. I can only imagine how horrible it must have been for him, his family and his friends. And, if he had put it off too long, he may not even be here today.

How did this whole ordeal change your outlook on life?
“Well it really didn’t a whole lot. I mean sure, I try to take better care of myself, I don’t do drugs, weed or smoke cigarettes anymore. I eat better and all that. But that’s not why I got cancer anyways. They say it was more of a hereditary thing. Even though no one that I know in my family ever had cancer like mine. My grandfather had cancer, but he had lung cancer, which was supposedly from smoking.”

“I do stop to smell the roses a bit more. Never know when it could be your last chance. Now on tour, I travel separate from the band, with my guitar tech wife. And we stop and see some sights now and then. its much more relaxing and fun for me this way. Except for the fact we have to drive a lot.”

Spike’s advice:
“Take care of yourself. What you do in your life definitely affects your elder life. The broken bones didn’t bother me much years ago, but now they hurt every day. See a doctor regularly and get checked and scanned as needed and advised… it could save your life. Don’t take ‘No’ for an answer if you feel you need help. Keep asking until you get it.

Spike’s story was timely for my decision to go get my colonoscopy. If detected early, colon cancer has one of the highest survival rates. There are many things we can do to help prevent this type of cancer as well.

The American Cancer Society, in its Current Recommendations for the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer, recommends taking the following actions to prevent colon cancer:
1. Get screened regularly.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
3. Adopt a physically active lifestyle.
4. Consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant sources; specifically:

  • Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains in preference to processed (refined) grains.
  • Limit your consumption of processed and red meats.

5. If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption.


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