Jennifer Coleman wrote -
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Imagine you are 15. Or 18. Or 22. Or 26. Trying to figure out your calling and place in life. Falling in love. Starting on your own. Beginning a career. Diagnosed with cancer. This is the reality for over 72,000 young adults each year. What if this had been you? What if it was your child? That’s exactly what happened to musical genius and activist Andrew McMahon.
At a career peak, starting off a solo project at age 22 after his wildly successful high school band went global, piano playing Andrew was stunned with the news that he had leukemia on the same day that he finished mastering his first solo project record. Andrew’s life was saved through a stem cell transplant from his sister, Katie, and his fans have since loved and leaned on his artistic lyrics and music to help through many struggles of their own.
While we all hear about the need for funding for pediatric and older adult cancers, the young adults stricken with this fate are often left out of the fundraising process. Andrew founded the Dear Jack Foundation to help answer this need. Dear Jack gives to many organizations that specifically help adults 15-39 as they fight for their lives and has raised much awareness around their needs during and after their battles. The foundation gives to the UCLA stem cell transplant program (a program on the cutting edge of cures through transplantation), The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, First Descents, Cancer for College, Matt Cwiertny Memorial Foundation’s Matt’s Mixed Tape Project and the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, provides college scholarships for young adult cancer survivors to help them through this transition period in their lives, as well as partners closely with Love Hope Strength Foundation to sign up potential marrow and stem cell matches at Andrew’s concerts. To date, over 30 cancer patients have received a match from a stranger who made the decision to become a potential donor just by attending one of Andrew’s concerts. The foundation will also provide funding directed to Dear Jack’s first direct service program called Breathe Again – a wellness workshop for young adult survivors who are transitioning from treatment into survivorship. The workshop focuses on restorative yoga, meditation and nutrition for the healing mind and body. Truly amazing, life saving work.
We, Kerri Leland and Jen Coleman, are partnering together to raise awareness of this critical need and organization and asking for your help. We each have had our own medical struggles and our stories are below for you to read. In honor of the positive impact that Andrew McMahon has had on both of our lives and the outstanding work that Dear Jack does, we are holding an Un-benefit Benefit. Benefits can be expensive- and not just because of the money you are donating to the actual cause. Fancy attire, travel, babysitters…it all adds up. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit at home in your pajamas and know that you are still helping young adults fight the biggest battle they have faced in their lives? Please consider making a donation as we work to raise $10,000 for the Dear Jack Foundation. The foundation is currently holding a $72K challenge to work towards helping the 72,000 young adults diagnosed with cancer each year. This would help them meet this goal! (The Dear Jack Foundation is a 501(c)(3) Charitable Organization. Tax ID 45-2219082. All donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.) Also- if you work for a company as generous as ours are who match charitable donations, please take a few minutes after your donation to ask them to match it.
Donation Suggestions for our Un-Benefit Benefit:
- $25 – Fancy cocktails are expensive – make one yourself and donate the rest to DJF!
- $50 – Who needs to buy a fancy benefit dinner when there are Amy’s meals in the freezer?
- $100- Babysitters are expensive- hug your kids and be grateful that they aren’t fighting this fight.
- $250 – The amount you would spend on a new dress and shoes – stay in your pajamas and donate from your living room!
- $500 – No need to buy airfare to travel to a benefit when it’s right at your fingertips
A year ago I just wasn't feeling well. I had come off a month long "virus" with multiple prescriptions, but no exact diagnosis. I thought I was on the mend but I just wasn't bouncing back. My doctor sent me to Emory University hospital for further testing. During that time they seemed to think leukemia was the probable diagnosis. When my bone marrow testing and reticulocyte count came back it was determined I had Aplastic Anemia. My first reaction was relief that it wasn't leukemia. I truly had no idea what Aplastic Anemia was, but figured it wasn't "that bad". Oh how I was wrong!
(Aplastic anemia is a disease in which the bone marrow, and the blood stem cells that reside there, are damaged. This causes a deficiency of all three blood cell types (pancytopenia): red blood cells (anemia), white blood cells (leukopenia), and platelets (thrombocytopenia). Aplastic refers to inability of the stem cells to generate the mature blood cells.)
The first months were filled with grueling treatment, transfusions, and spinal taps. I lived week-by-week trying to make my numbers climb even a tenth of a point. Any dip in my labs felt like a crushing defeat. I just wanted it to go away.
The first few months I told no one except my immediate family about my diagnosis. I'm not sure if it was denial or fear, but I didn't want the world to view me as broken. So I kept it to myself and turned inward, which isn't my personality at all. Most people who know me know that I don't just love music, I LIVE for music. I put together a long playlist (aptly named "Treatment Sucks!") to listen to during treatment so I didn't have to talk to anyone at the clinic. I. Was. Bitter.
My nurse could hear my music through my earbuds (it seems I like it louder than most) and asked what the song was that I had on repeat. I told her it was Jack's Mannequin song "Swim". Those lyrics speak to my battle..."I'm not giving in, I swim." It was then that my nurse told me that I wasn't swimming, I was wading in the water. I needed to learn to live again. I had been laying in bed for hours each day, saying I couldn't move, but the truth was that I just didn't want to face life. But my nurse was right, it was time for me to swim. And the first thing I did was look at concert schedules. My soul needed music. Live music.
My numbers are still the bane of my existence but no longer do I feel sorry for myself. I'm back to raising money for the causes that speak to me. I loved working on the 33rd annual Hit'em For Hemophilia golf tournament ($200k raised in one day!), and of course sitting on the community board for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta! But now I'm adding the Dear Jack Foundation to my list of fundraising endeavors.
DJF raises money for the adolescent/young adult cancer community. I can't imagine how my kids would handle this struggle at the ages they're at, and there is little support for this age group. The DJF founder, Andrew McMahon, the singer of "Swim", battled leukemia 10 years ago, and is now in remission thanks to a bone marrow transplant. At each show Andrew has the Love Hope Strength Foundation there to swab potential bone marrow donors to get on the registry. Those donors could provide a potential cure for those with Aplastic Anemia as well! I want a cure! I want remission! But those things I can't control. What I can do in the mean time is work on changing the world. And that is where you, my friends, come in...
After multiple car accidents I assumed I had been lucky enough not to sustain any serious injuries - I was young and therefore obviously invincible. And then it came - slowly at first, and later like an electrical storm- the nerve pain in my arms. And not the kind of nerve pain that most people think of - there was no “numbness” or “tingling”. This was knock-you-down lightning bolts that turned into living in a constant torture chamber.
I went to the Mayo Clinic thinking I would get answers and help- isn’t that what we always assume is here for us living in Minnesota? After a week of testing I was told to “deal with it.” There was no way I was doing that. Fast forward - 2 years of unhelpful physical therapy and increasing pain, never holding my little girl, only leaving the house for work, and generally life missed out on later , my constant research finally led me to a physical therapy group that challenged the normal thinking of “physical therapy.”
Highly specialized education and gifted intuition allowed them to begin to heal the restrictions that my body had made due to all of the trauma it had sustained over the years. I was sent down to Scottsdale, AZ to see the world famous Dr Bruno Chikly to help my healing (and subsequently made 3 other trips as well). And now, another 2 years later, I am finally in what we can refer to as recovery.
My first non-medical trip since the summer of 2011 was a road trip 3.5 hours south to Des Moines, IA to see my first Andrew McMahon concert in June of 2015. My second was to Chicago for his annual Dear Jack Foundation Benefit on 11/11. Andrew’s lyrics memorializing his own medical journey and healing are played in my house daily and the power of his talent, along with his truly amazing fans, has been beyond humanizing. I am so grateful every day for my recovery and would like to start paying forward what we can only refer to as my second chance at life—and I’m starting with this fundraising effort. If you once asked what you could do to help me, this is it. The universe has given me this 4 year experience for some reason and I truly believe it was, at least in part, to help me help others. Please help me fulfill that fate by donating to this critical organization- because I know what it's like to be a young adult battling a medical diagnosis every day.