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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Artist reflects on his music and cancer journey

Andrew McMahon to perform at the Rave/Eagles Club Oct. 27
Photo by via YouTube
Andrew McMahon goes on tour to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his life-saving stem cell transplant

Listen to the full interview with Andrew McMahon below by Ian Schrank and Lily Wellen:

Andrew McMahon is a survivor. This is true of his journey as the front man of not one, but three different bands throughout his career as a musician. But even more than that, it is true of his personal battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He was diagnosed when he was 22, at the very start of his transition from his first band, Something Corporate, to his side project, Jack’s Mannequin.

It’s been 10 years since he received a life-saving stem cell transplant from his sister, the same day that Jack’s Mannequin’s debut record, “Everything in Transit” was released. Since then, McMahon has not only evolved as a musician, but has used his music and his foundation, The Dear Jack Foundation, to positively affect the lives of other cancer patients and survivors.

The 10-year anniversary of McMahon’s transplant is marked by yet another intermingling of his music and his cancer activism. McMahon heads out on tour with New Politics this month, just as the Dear Jack Foundation’s 72k Challenge is hitting its mid-way point. The challenge’s goal is to  raise $72,000, which represents the number of adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer every year. In addition to being able to donate, most shows on the tour will also have a booth where fans can sign up to be put on the bone marrow registry.

The tour’s stop in Milwaukee will be held at the Rave/Eagles Club on Oct. 27It will be almost a year to the day since McMahon was last at the Rave to play a free benefit show to bring awareness to his foundation. However, the relationship between his music and his struggle with cancer has been there from the start.

“When I got sick, we posted something online [for fans] that just said, ‘Please donate to the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation,’” McMahon said. “And over the course of the six months to a year that I was in heavy treatment and recovery, the amount of donations that came in on our behalf was so big.”

Fans organized grassroots fundraisers and wristband initiatives, raising more money and awareness than McMahon ever imagined, and for a cause that was so directly personal to him. In his fans dedication to this cause, he saw the potential for much more.

“It just felt like this energy was building,” McMahon said. “It felt like, wow, what if we could take all of these separate fundraisers and organizations that are springing up and put them all in one place and focus our mission?”

That’s how Dear Jack Foundation was born. The name Dear Jack comes from a Jack’s Mannequin song about the brother of a friend of McMahon’s who also suffered from childhood leukemia. The foundation appropriately focuses on issues related to adolescent and young adult cancer.

“We do a lot of work in the cancer community that I’m really proud of,” McMahon said.

Over the years, the foundation has hit some significant goals. They’ve raised over half a million dollars for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society, awarded cancer survivors college scholarships, and worked with First Descents, an organization that sends cancer survivors on adventure camps into the wilderness to help build confidence.

And that work continues. Even though it just began in August, the 72k Challenge has already hit the $30,000 mark. Two cancer survivors attending University of California and California State University have also received scholarships through the Dear Jack Foundation.

With his music and his foundation, McMahon believes in focusing on growth and evolution. Musically, it’s something he’s practiced.

“I hate doing the same thing twice,” McMahon said. “I like the idea of constantly finding new collaborators and working with new people and keeping the stage show fresh.”

His recent solo project, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, is the result of McMahon ‘detangling’ himself from the business ties formed during his time with Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. He switched to an independent label, operated for a time without management and drew songwriting inspiration from something as new and terrifying as being a father for the first time.

“It was really kind of like a hard reset,” McMahon said about the transition. “Everything sort of flipped upside down and I started from scratch. It was tough but it was invigorating.”

That same evolution and growth is something McMahon sees his foundation moving towards as well. He is confident the 72k Challenge will reach its $72,000 goal by the holidays, and he is excited for the foundation’s upcoming fundraisers. Looking towards the future, he wants to transform the foundation to expand its focus onto issues of survivorship.

“There’s a lot of things that happen after a treatment is supposedly finished,” McMahon said. “Your body might be on the mend, but there might be psychosocial issues, difficulties with depression, PTSD and things that people don’t really realize happen in the world of cancer survivors.”

It’s something McMahon is all too familiar with, having to deal with months of painful and debilitating recovery after his stem cell transplant. Through it all, music was his touchstone. Now, as his activism and music career continue to intersect and thrive, keeping all aspects of his life positive and fun is McMahon’s main goal.

“It’s easy to start taking anything in life too seriously,” McMahon said. “But I’m blessed to be playing music, and I want to keep that element of joy and excitement always close at hand.”



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