Andrew McMahon, front man of the bands Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, was a rock star on the rise when he was suddenly diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia at 22 years old. How did he handle this life-changing challenge? And how did his relationship survive the stress?
Diane Reidy-Lagunes, medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and host of Cancer Straight Talk from MSK, a podcast for people with cancer and their loved ones, sat down with Andrew and his wife, Kelly, to talk about their struggle to save not just Andrew’s life but also their marriage, what gave them a sense of purpose, and how they moved beyond the identities of patient and caregiver.
Losing His Voice
Andrew had just been signed to a new label in 2005 and was in the midst of touring with Something Corporate. He was also recording his soon-to-be smash debut album for Jack’s Mannequin. Then he lost his voice.
“I didn’t go to the doctor until I finally couldn’t do a show,” he says. “I’d never canceled a show in my life.” The very next day, as he had just finished recording his album, he was in a hospital with a likely diagnosis of leukemia.
His reaction to this news was a strange sense of calm, he says. “For me, it felt like all of a sudden I was given permission to stop this wild moment.” Later, when his disease and treatment progressed, the fear kicked in. “You show up to cancer with who you are, and you leave with some compromised version of who you are that you have to rebuild and become a new you,” Andrew says.
In this episode, Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes talks with Andrew and his wife, Kelly, about their struggle to save not just Andrew’s life but also their marriage, sense of purpose, and identities beyond the patient and caregiver roles they had gotten so used to.
A Wife or a Caregiver?
Kelly had the difficult task of becoming one of Andrew’s main caregivers. She witnessed the different sides and phases of Andrew as his cancer journey progressed. She had to learn how to be the support system he needed — while maintaining her own identity and coming to terms with the new dynamic of their relationship.
“It was really confusing for me because I didn’t have any resources,” Kelly says. “In the hospital, we had the doctors, the nurses; I had his mom and his sister around. And then when we were home, it was just me. I didn’t really know how to help him or myself because I was also unpacking a very scary experience.”Back to top
Thanks to a lifesaving bone marrow transplant Andrew received from his sister, he was able to beat his cancer. But the challenges of the disease still affected his and Kelly’s lives.
When Andrew decided to take a trip on the spur of the moment without Kelly, she came to the realization that the pattern they’d built was not working. “It occurred to me, ‘Why am I the only one who has to hold everything down?’ ” she says.
Andrew says that therapy not only helped them as individuals but saved their relationship. “It took cracking that Pandora’s box of what I had experienced and facing it,” he says. “I used a million diversions to steer myself away from opening that vault, but once I did, things got a lot better.”Back to top
Making a Difference
Andrew started the Dear Jack Foundation, which provides programming to help young adult cancer patients, survivors, and their families. Kelly is passionate about their Breathe Now Retreat, where survivors and their partners can come together for a weekend away to learn about healthy living, find balance in their relationships, and meet peers in a similar circumstance.
Andrew also strongly advocates for the importance of bone marrow donors. Andrew’s experience with cancer affected the lives of all those around him — Kelly, his sister, the rest of his family, his fans. He encourages his fans to sign up for the registry while on tour, saying: “Through the simple act of registering, you have the power to change so many people’s lives.”
To learn more about Andrew and Kelly’s experience with cancer, tune in to this episode of Cancer Straight Talk from MSK.Back to top