DEF LEPPARD's VIVIAN CAMPBELL offers update on his ongoing battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma
During an appearance on the “Lymphoma Voices” podcast, DEF LEPPARD guitarist Vivian Campbell offered an update on his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, with which he was diagnosed in 2013. The 61-year-old musician said in part : “I’m still dealing with the lymphoma. It’s sort of like — it’s an American expression — whac-a-mole. You beat something back and then it pops up somewhere else. But it’s been a pretty consistent battle, but it hasn’t been too difficult for me. I deal with it fine. I’ve been able to live my life. I’ve been able to continue touring. For the bulk of those 10 years, I actually was doing immunotherapy. Starting in June of 2015, I started taking a drug called pembrolizumab. I did that as part of a clinical trial. We discussed a few options. And I’d heard about this immunotherapy, and it was a very nascent treatment and I was really pushing for doing it. I remember at the time my doctors wanted me to do radiation and maybe a combination of radiation and chemo. And I just thought, ‘Well, let’s just try this immunotherapy thing. Let’s see if this works.’ So I managed to get on the trial. I’m happy to say that it worked well for me. So from June of 2015 until essentially the end of 2022, I was able to, just about once a month, go in and do an infusion of pembrolizumab and just go about my life, and it was very, very easy for me to do. Honestly, the hardest part was scheduling with all my travel. There were very, very subtle, very benign side effects. For me, I tolerated the treatment very, very well. And that was working great. But it sort of lost its efficacy a year, year and a half ago. And we could tell in the scans. I would do scans every three to four months just as a matter of protocol anyway to see what was happening. And my oncologist now had been telling me for essentially the last two years that the pembrolizumab was not being as effective as it once was and that we were gonna have to consider different treatments. So anyway, in November of last year, we did a combination of pembrolizumab with three chemo drugs. You have to forgive me ’cause I cannot remember the names of the chemo drugs. But anyway, so I did a course of treatment, six cycles of that combination therapy of the three chemo drugs and the pembrolizumab. Unfortunately, it didn’t put me into remission; we fell a little bit short of that. So I just recently, at the end of July, started doing six cycles of a combination therapy of a chemo drug called brentuximab and an immunotherapy drug called nivolumab. I’m halfway through that. I’ve done cycle three. I do cycle four early next week. So far, so good. I had to go and get this stunning haircut yesterday because the brentuximab does have hair loss as a side effect. So I could start telling in the last couple of weeks, every time I touched my hair, it was coming out. So, I’m a little bit more proactive by going and cutting it super, super short.”
Asked if he has gotten used to his much shorter haircut, Vivian said: “10 years ago, when I first started doing the ABVD chemo, that’s when my hair first fell out. And so that was difficult. It was mostly difficult for me because I’d had long hair my entire adult life. I literally started growing my hair long when I was about 11 or 12 years old, and it’s just gotten longer and longer. And it becomes part of your identity when it’s around for so long, especially as a guitar player. And to be honest, it was a comforting thing to me because it gave me something to hide behind when I was on stage. I am naturally a very shy person and I identify with being a musician. I don’t identify very much with being a performer, even though, if I’m being honest with myself, that’s really kind of what we do in DEF LEPPARD. Yeah, we’re musicians and we’re songwriters, we write songs and we make records and we record music, but when we go on tour, we’re performers, and that’s part of it. And my hair gave me something to hide behind. It was a big part of my identity for so much of my life. So it was difficult letting go of it the first time again.’
He continued: “I was living in L.A. at the time, and I went to a theatrical wig maker when they first told me my hair was gonna fall out. They took pictures and measurements of my hair before it fell out. And they made a very, very realistic wig for me. It was very expensive and it was very realistic. And I could have transitioned to that, and people might not have noticed — other than the weight loss. I mean, I definitely was losing a lot of weight, so I was a bit more gaunt looking. But the wig thing just didn’t feel right to me. And I know that it’s different for everyone else. I literally wore that wig, I think, for about 12 or 13 minutes driving home after visiting the wig guy and getting fitted for this. And I pulled over. My wife was with me and. And I just took it off my head and I never put it back on since. And I decided to just go public about my cancer diagnosis’
Campbell added: “I was able to speak directly to DEF LEPPARD fans via social media and sort of tell them, ‘Well, this is what’s going on with me. I’ve had this cancer diagnosis. And my hair is gonna fall out. So you’re gonna see me on tour. I’m not gonna have much hair. Don’t be too shocked.’ So that’s sort of helped that I was able to put it out to anyone who cared or was interested before actually just going on stage as bald as a cue ball. And, and it did get to that stage, that my hair completely fell; I didn’t even have eyebrows. But in a way I found the whole process somewhat cathartic, because I didn’t have this mane of hair to hide behind. I had nothing to offer on stage but my talents as a musician, as a guitarist, as a singer, as a songwriter. And in a way, it was somewhat liberating for me. And I realized that it’s probably easier for me than for a lot of other people, because at this time I was already in my early fifties. I don’t think I would have handled that as well if I had gotten this cancer when I was 20 years old, as opposed to 50 years old, so I had a different mindset about it.
“So it is a very personal thing, “Vivian said. “But for me, I tried to look on the positive side of it. I didn’t see any shame in it. There’s no shame in having cancer. There’s no shame in going through treatment and wearing the effects of your treatment physically, and even being in a very public position as I was, going on tour with DEF LEPPARD and playing in front of tens of thousands of people. Like I say, there was there was something kind of really liberating about it. It’s not my first choice, but you kind of go with it and you own it and you make the best of it. And for me as a musician, like I said, there was something that just allowed me to go on stage and just focus on the essence of who I am as a musician and as a person and to just put it all out there.”
“Lymphoma Voices” is a series of podcasts for people living with lymphoma, and their family and friends. In each podcast, the hosts are in conversation with an expert in their field, or someone who has been personally affected by lymphoma, who shares their thoughts and experiences.
Campbell — who before joining DEF LEPPARD in 1992 was well known for his work with DIO and WHITESNAKE — went public with his Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis in June 2013.
Vivian underwent three separate spells of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, only for his Hodgkin’s lymphoma to return.
Four years ago, Campbell underwent spine surgery.
Vivian and his DEF LEPPARD bandmates were finally inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March 2019 — 14 years after the British rockers first became eligible.
DEF LEPPARD‘s latest album, “Diamond Star Halos”, arrive in May 2022 via UMe.
DEF LEPPARD‘s “The Stadium Tour” with MÖTLEY CRÜE, POISON and JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS was originally scheduled to take place in the summer of 2020 but ended up being pushed back to 2021, and then to 2022, due to the coronavirus pandemic.