Andrew Baird, drummer of a local death metal band Fallujah, was diagnosed with cancer a year ago at age 21. Almost instantly, the daily worries of the average young adult disappeared as Baird and his bandmates realized he was now fighting for his life.
“I honestly thought nothing was wrong. I was incredibly healthy, probably in the best health of my life,” Baird said, who spent his days working out and drumming with his band, fronted by vocalist and SF State student Alex Hofmann.
After a routine check-up, doctors began to worry about a growth and conducted a few tests. The results came back as stage two testicular cancer.
“I remember going out, grabbing a bite to eat, went home, I ate, and then I got a phone call from my urologist basically saying ‘We have some bad news for you. You have cancer… you have testicular cancer,’” Baird said. “The immediate emotion that followed wasn’t me being sad or crying, I was angry. Like, of all things, why this?”
While a cancer diagnosis is more common for the elderly, adolescents and young adults 15 to 39 are much more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than children under the age of 15, according to the National Cancer Institute. Testicular cancer is one of the more common types of cancer seen in adolescents.
After dealing with the initial shock and anxiety, Baird had to tell his family, friends and bandmates.
“When he told me, I was in utter disbelief… this was before we were about to go on our biggest tour at the time. I couldn’t believe it, it was the worst timing possible. I kept thinking ‘my close, good friend has to go through this ordeal now, and we don’t know the outcome,’” Rob Maramonte, guitarist of Fallujah, said.
Soon after, Baird’s treatment process began, which included tumor removal surgery and a round of chemotherapy. Baird credits support from his bandmates for his ability to cope.
“They saw me go through all the phases of losing my hair, those nights where I was constantly puking and no sleep, and the days where I was feeling great and practicing with them,” Baird said.
During the early stages of treatment, Baird used his drumming as a way to conquer the taxing emotions that cancer can bring.
“Dealing with cancer sucks, so at least me being able to play helped to get that aggression out,” Baird said. It gave me peace of mind because I was able to listen to my music still and just zone out and focus on just drumming and playing with my band.”
A false sense of security loomed as the chemo treatments ended and Baird expected news of remission. He was told that the cancer had spread to his abdominal lymph nodes, which would need to be surgically removed. The surgery required an incision from the bottom of his sternum to the top of his groin, eventually sealed up with 46 staples.
If the two-to-three-month recovery from the surgery wasn’t enough, Baird had to follow up with more chemo. Baird’s sister Katie was there when the doctor broke the news.
“He had completely broken down and that was hard. Andrew is my big brother. Seeing him so vulnerable like that was just so devastating. I didn’t even know what to say to him,” Katie said, ”I would’ve done absolutely anything to help ease his pain, but in reality there was really nothing I could do to make things better.”
Through all of the treatments, Baird was struck with nerve damage in his hands. As a drummer, this took a huge toll on his daily life.
“I remember sticks would just fly everywhere because I just couldn’t grip them well. I’d be going through three or four sticks just for one song, just rehearsing, not even playing a show,” Baird said.
During his extended healing process, Baird was able to play a couple local shows occasionally, but couldn’t tour.
“It was making me infuriated, because I was getting sick all the time and I couldn’t do a lot, and my band had to keep moving on with fill-in drummers; it gave me more motivation to get better,” Baird said.
The motivation to heal was also fueled by Fallujah’s fans. Baird would make regular posts on Facebook, updating his fans on how he was doing, and got an enormous response. Hundreds of likes and comments from fans and friends flooded his page. With each comment or post from a person, Baird would take the time to respond with a heartfelt “thanks” and some conversation.
“The support through my band, with the fans, was pretty overwhelming,” Baird said, “This last tour that I just came back from, I actually met a lot of fans that had heard about it and some of them even said I got better (at drums). I keep telling them it wasn’t easy, but I’m getting it back one way or another. A lot of people were really impressed by that, it was cool.”
With the motivation to get back behind the drum set and support from his friends, bandmates and fans, Baird was finally able to announce his remission and completion of treatment in September of last year. He has just returned from his first tour since his diagnosis.
“He’s playing drums better than ever, you would have never thought he went through all that,” Maramonte said. “He bounced back 110 percent, and it’s good to have him back.”
Baird continues to rebuild and thrive, but remains humble.
“It’s important to remember that there are people out there who have it worse. I was able to fight with mine and I still feel like I got off easy.”
Fallujah will be recording new music this February.