POISON drummer Rikki Rockett recently completed nine rounds of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation after being diagnosed with oral cancer this past summer. The 54-year-old rocker will undergo a PET scan in February to determine if the treatment was successful.
Rockett spoke about his cancer battle for the first time publicly during an appearance on the December 14 edition of Eddie Trunk‘s SiriusXM satellite radio show, “Eddie Trunk Live”.
Recalling how he found out he had cancer, Rockett said: “[In] June, I kind of got sick. I had this horrible cold, sore-throat thing, and they were scoping me and they were doing biopsies, and nothing was coming up. And finally a doctor at USC did a biopsy and took a look and he said, ‘I believe you have oral cancer.’ And what it was is a tumor at the base of my tongue… This is very similar to Bruce Dickinson [IRON MAIDEN], very similar to [actor] Michael Douglas, similar to Tom Hamilton [AEROSMITH], as far as I know; I don’t know the details of his. And two adjacent lymph nodes that it kind of… Normally, it does spread to the lymph nodes; that’s typical. That’s how you find out you have it ninety percent of the time.”
He continued: “I went down to USC, to all the doctors down there, and the first doctor I went to sat me down, looked me in the eyes, and he said, ‘You’ve had pretty good health all your life.’ He goes, ‘You picked one of hell of a cancer to get.’ He said, ‘It is very treatable, it’s very curable, but it is a son of a bitch to treat, and I’m gonna hurt you.’ And it scared the hell out of me. And I’m, like,’ What are you talking about?’ he goes, ‘About fifty percent of my patients wind up hospitalized through the treatments, ’cause you’ve gotta do chemo and radiation at the same time, or you’ve gotta do surgery. And sometimes when you do surgery, you still have to do chemo and radiation. So we’re gonna try chemo and radiation.’ So I wound up doing the chemo. I did nine rounds of chemo of cetuximab, which is the stuff that the company that Martha Stewart went to jail for; she did the insider trading in… I wanna say it was 2004 or something… That’s an IV [intravenously administered], and it’s a targeted immunotherapy, so it’s not like the typical chemical that just kills everything. But they said one problem it does have is you get a rash. And I’m, like, ‘A rash?’ They’re, like, ‘Yeah, you’re gonna look like a kid with really bad acne.’ So I started to get it on my face and on my chest and on my back and shoulders and a little bit on my trunk, and then, bam, in two weeks, it just calmed down for some reason. So I was very lucky with that. But then I started radiation, and I did thirty-five rounds of radiation; it was five days a week for seven weeks, and that kicks your dick into the dirt. But I went, ‘Okay, this is what I’m gonna do. I wanna beat it, so I’m just gonna go head first into this. I’m gonna set myself up where every single day, I do something positive for my health. I’m gonna work out one day, I’m gonna go to therapy one day.’ I go to this occupational therapy where they do swallowing and speech and stuff like that, to keep your neck going. Regular therapy, acupuncture…”
According to Rockett, he managed to keep a mostly positive outlook while continuing his treatment, helped in no small part by the support of his family and friends. He said: “I hit one week where I didn’t leave the house, but besides that, my trainer would call me… I couldn’t do jiu-jitsu anymore, which was the thing that really killed me, because of the skin infection that you can get, rolling on the mats and stuff. Rock and roll is my passion, but jiu-jitsu is kind of my lifestyle, you know what I mean? It’s like I see those guys almost every day for the last seventeen years, and I had to just cut it all out completely. But they were very supportive. I mean, I had those guys text me — my jiu-jitsu guys — almost every day: ‘How are you doing?’ ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Do you need us to come up there and drive you down?’ I kind of retreated a little bit. I’m, like, ‘I’m gonna make it a little bit all about me, except for the kids, but the rest of everything I’m gonna do, I’m just gonna focus on me.'”
He continued: “My mother-in-law, which is kind of crazy, because everybody knows I filed for divorce a few months ago, unfortunately. But my wife and I are on good terms, and my mother-in-law actually took me to radiation almost every day. I mean, that was a huge commitment.”
Describing the brutal nature of his treatment, Rikki said: “At the end of the day, it was really the worst thing that you can go through, for me. I’ve had a decent life, you know what I mean? I mean, we all go through our stuff. I’m not saying my life is a bed of roses, but I’m not a war veteran who got this too. I didn’t get my leg blown off and get cancer. Those guys are the guys that are really the heroes and paying for it. So for me, it was just a battle that I had to get through, and I got to the point where I couldn’t really talk. I had, I think, sixteen canker sores in my mouth at one time. And it’s, like, if you could take your throat and turn it inside out and sunburn it… I had to use this stuff called Magic Mouthwash just to drink the water. It hurt so bad, I couldn’t… And I’m still on a liquid diet.”
Rockett also explained his reason for keeping quiet about his cancer diagnosis for several months after he first received the bad news. He said: “I wanted to see how I would do with [the treatment]. And I didn’t want people to maybe come down to USC and [take] spy photos, like TMZ guys or something like that. And I didn’t want anybody talking to my family about it or anything like that. It’s, like, you wanna forget about it when you can. So when I first start to talk about it, [I didn’t want it to be a situation where] I’d be at the mall, and I’m playing with my little girl or something, and somebody would go, like, ‘Hey, man, how’s the throat doing?’ It’s, like, ‘I just forgot about it for the last forty-five minutes and now you had to remind me.’ And everybody has a horror story. ‘Oh, you have cancer? My mom had cancer. She died from it.’ I don’t wanna hear anybody’s horror stories.”
According to Rikki, all signs point to the fact that he is responding well to treatment and he is hoping to get some more good news in the early months of 2016. He said: “Where I’m at now is I went last week for my follow-up. Both doctors said I’m doing excellent, and they both have excellent prognosis. In early February, I get my PET scan, and that’s the end-all; that tells you if there’s any activity. They both said they suspect that there won’t be. And so I’ve got fingers crossed. But I’m just gonna try to put that out of my mind for now and just continue to get better and feel better. There’s nothing that looks like it’s there anymore. They’ve gone down, they’ve looked at my throat… But it’s swelled up and it’s hard to tell, but it looks like it’s in remission.”
Rockett also revealed that his tongue cancer diagnosis was caused by HPV, the human papilloma virus. He said: “It is the number one leading cause of oral cancer these days. There’s less and less of the truck drivers that chew tobacco for thirty years getting it, because people are more aware that that kind of stuff isn’t good. So we are getting marathon runners and all these elite athletes with this. I have a friend that’s a therapist, and five years ago, it was five percent of the people she treated, and now it’s close to ninety percent.”
He continued: “It can be spread sexually, but now they’re saying that it can spread [through] deep-kissing and actually hand to mouth. I mean, if you see the Olympic swimmers, they swim and they smack their hand on the side of the pool for each lap, and their hands are full of warts and stuff from HPV. Now the wart kind of HPV is not the same as the strain that causes cancer, but it is spread almost identically. For men, you can’t tell if you have it. For women, you can get a papsmear. But the doctor estimated probably it was fifteen [or] twenty years ago [when I contracted it], and my body probably got rid of it, but it mutated itself and my body would probably see that again and get rid of it. But there’s no way to tell who got it. I mean, I know a couple that’s been married for fifteen years and they’ve never cheated on each other, and they’re pointing their finger at each other [after one of them was diagnosed with oral cancer], and it turned into a thing until the doctor sat ’em down and went, ‘Look, you can get this so many ways.'”
POISON appeared at the 2013 Indy 500 Miller Lite Carb Day, but has otherwise been mostly playing private shows, including one this past January. The band’s last major dates were with LITA FORD and DEF LEPPARD as part of the 2012 “Rock Of Ages” tour.
DEVIL CITY ANGELS, the band originally formed by Rockett, Tracii Guns (L.A GUNS), Eric Brittingham (CINDERELLA), and vocalist Brandon Gibbs, released its self-titled debut album on September 18.