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Cancer Can Rock (No Really)

by Daniel Warren Hill

In 2017, Edward Miskie published a book called Cancer, Musical Theatre, and Other Chronic Illnesses. As you can probably imagine from the title, it broaches a very serious subject from as lighthearted a space as it can, attributed to Miskie’s experience as a singer and actor. He had never really considered himself a writer, but after experiencing cancer himself (Rare-Enlarged B-Cell Burkitt’s-like Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, to be exact) and speaking with other cancer survivors, Miskie was inspired to share his own experiences as a patient as well as the aftermath of survival.

“When you come on the other end of it it is just as much of a shit-show. When you’re a patient you have a team of nurses and doctors and other people kind of holding your hand and guiding you along, and telling you what to do. So once that’s over you’re kind of like, ‘Well, okay, I have to get back to some kind of life now.’ It’s weird. It’s jarring. It’s definitely a re-readjustment.”

Photo Courtesy of Cancer Can Rock

It was only within the last three or four years that Miskie went public with his diagnosis and treatment experience and found a support group outside of his immediate family and close friends. In August of 2020 he began publishing a podcast which shares the book title, in which guests and fellow cancer survivors read a chapter of the book before delving into their own personal experiences with this aggressive and deadly illness. The National Cancer Institute reports that 1.8 million new cases are diagnosed annually, a third resulting in death.

Cancer Can Rock is an organization that understands the numbers all too well. When founder and multi-platinum, two-time Grammy nominated producer Jim Ebert survived his own cancer diagnosis, he looked around for his own unique ability to offer some relief for those that have encountered the disease. Ebert would utilize his most personal and valuable asset by producing songs for musicians facing cancer, providing a fully mixed & mastered recording and multimedia experience immortalizing a piece of that artists’ history. Most of the artists have thankfully been able to take advantage of this opportunity before succumbing to the illness, although during the pandemic, the efforts of the organization have come to a crawl.

“It’s a little tough right now with COVID”, says Ebert. “This is a real conundrum. COVID slows it down and people don’t have time; some people don’t have time to mess around. I don’t want to bring them out in COVID…their immunity’s already down, they’re on chemotherapy or whatever; Their immune system is already shot and I don’t want to bring them out in that environment” 

As luck would have it, Miskie was referred to Ebert by former YellowTieGuy drummer Cole Deiner, who went to high school with Miskie in Pennsylvania before Cancer Can Rock was required to significantly pause their efforts. Deiner had spotted some old photos Miskie had shared on social media while digging through his archives for lyrics, notes, and previous recordings of the music he originally moved to New York City to pursue, and suggested that Miskie and Ebert might have a lot in common, and lots to talk about.  “I reached out to Jim and his organization on Instagram,” says Miskie, “and five minutes later he sent me his phone number and we were on the phone talking about it. I was like ‘maybe I’ll interview him for my podcast.’ I had no idea what I was getting into with this. Finally, when I got on the phone with him he was like, ‘Why don’t you come down to the recording studio and we can lay down a track together.’ So we set it up, and made it happen, and thirty days later I was in the studio.”

Photo Courtesy of Cancer Can Rock

The collaborative effort between Miskie, Ebert, and the team at Cancer Can Rock manifested itself in the form of “Walk of Shame,” which had been laying dormant all these years until Miskie and Ebert would have the chance to work together and breathe new life into it.

“We talked for a while and I listened to it, and I heard the Broadway influence,” says Ebert. “I’m a rock guy, and I thought, ‘Well how can I merge these two?’ Then I thought of Queen. Theatrics and rock is Queen. So I applied a little bit of Queen, maybe too much Queen, but how can you have too much Queen?”

Miskie noted the whole experience was slightly surreal. “I had this moment when I was sitting in the studio in DC being like ‘How did I get here again?’ It was so fast and just felt so good to do. They sent me a draft mix of the song we did and it is solid. I’m very pleased with it. They’re such a great team of musicians. Jim did a fantastic job producing it. He did things that I would have never thought to do. It was such a great experience. They are such great people.” 

“I think he had a good time,” said Ebert. “I know we had a good time. When people come in, a lot of people have no idea that we’re going into a pretty full-blown studio with a high [calibur] cast of musicians. They are amazing musicians, but even better people. There’s just no stress. Every artist that has been through the door has said, ‘This should be intimidating, but it’s not.’”

Being a cancer survivor himself, Ebert’s attitude throughout the entire process is complemented by the entire Cancer Can Rock cast of musicians and production crew, putting the artists at ease. “I feel for these people, and I tell them, ‘You’ve had it way harder than me,’ because most of them have had a very tough time. We’ve lost a few, maybe four out of the thirty [artists featured] have passed. You get to meet some really wonderful people, and when they leave, it’s not cool.”

“If I was the artist,” he notes, “And I hope to never be the artist (again), to have something that my grandkids would see the video and hear this song, that’s pretty cool. Or my great great grandkids when none of us are here, they’ll have this.”

However, Miskie and one other person, Molly Oldham from Akron, Ohio have had the opportunity to be featured since the beginning of the year. Ebert says, “Once COVID is over or everyone is vaccinated…however we get there, we’ll start back up.” Meanwhile, a lot of the public-facing opportunities Cancer Can Rock might normally have to bring awareness to the work they do is at a standstill and the fundraising efforts along with them. The organization is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and is able to accept public donations from their website, cancercanrock.org, where the organization clearly states, “Cancer has no perks. Cancer Can Rock, at least for a moment, changes that for those it serves.” 

Miskie states how therapeutic his experience was with Cancer Can Rock. “Music therapy is a very real thing, and people who have gone through something as traumatic as cancer where you have to very literally starkly look at the fact that your mortality is on the line…any outlet you can have…to bring healing for yourself, Cancer Can Rock can facilitate that.” 

“There’s this person that I used to be, that I kind of put away, and they’re giving me the space to be that person again.”

Hear Edward Miskie’s “Walk of Shame” below, and bring his legacy and the legacies of the artists featured by Jim Ebert and Cancer Can Rock organization into your music rotation and playlists. You’ll surely be inspired in more ways than one.

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Daniel Warren Hill

Daniel Warren Hill is an American musician, writer, and motivational speaker. He is best known as the frontman for Washington DC area Alternative Rock band YellowTieGuy, as co-founder of Capitol Groove Collective, and increasing the exposure of artists on a global scale through his work with Alchemical Records. 

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