He wrote a song about his mom's cancer. That's when famous musicians sent him their version.

There are some things life doesn't prepare you for.

Like sitting your 9- and 10-year-old kids down on the living room couch to tell them that your cancer came back.

Christi Nelson had already been through the wringer— chemo, hospitalization, a mastectomy — when her oncologist delivered the news. Less than six months after being declared breast-cancer-free, the cancer was back. A second round of chemo was the only shot for the 42-year-old.


So Christi and her husband, Mike, called a family meeting with their sons, Eddie and Archer, to break the bad news. That's when Archer decided he had something to say about the situation.

Eddie, Christi, Mike, and Archer on Mother's Day 2014, just after mastectomy surgery. Photo by Christi Nelson. Courtesy of the family.

"I remember Archer got real quiet," Mike said in a phone interview.

"Then he goes, 'I think cancer is stupid. You know why? Because Mom kicked its butt once, and it came back to get beat up again.'"

Mike says his son's positive attitude helped keep him from getting too dark. "You don't want to see that look of worry in your kid's eye. No kid should have to worry about things like that," he says.

Archer and Eddie. Photo courtesy of the family.

Archer wasn't done surprising his parents:

At the time, Mike, a longtime radio DJ in the Bay Area, had been teaching Archer how to burn CDs— "because every cool kid needs to learn '90s technology," he says jokingly. But when he walked into his son's room one day, Archer suddenly turned bashful.

"I think the CD player's broken," he said.

Mike looked inside and pulled out a piece of crumpled-up paper, cut into the shape of a CD. Scrawled on the paper in little-boy handwriting were the words "Boob Spelled Backwards Is Boob."

Archer with his dad. Photo courtesy of the family.

"I made up a song for Mom," Archer said, explaining that he couldn't figure out how to get the song out of his imagination and into the world. So he put his paper "CD" in the stereo, hoping it would play the music he had in his head.

Archer's song combined some surprisingly poetic imagery with nuggets of kid wisdom like, "Never forget the good things in life / Like candy, life, eating, having fun."

Mike was touched. He told the story to some colleagues at KFOG, the San Francisco radio station where he works. That's when his producer recruited the band Spearhead's Michael Franti to set Archer's lyrics to music. Then, they started asking every musician that came through the KFOG studios to contribute something to the song.

"The Grateful Dead heard about it and said, 'We want to be a part of it.' ... They could be doing a million things with their time, and they took the time to do this. I was speechless."

"The idea was to make it like a 'We Are the World' for breast cancer," Mike says.

The couple was stunned by the response from artists.

Christi Nelson just before having her chemotherapy port installed on Oct. 11, 2013. Photo by Kimberly Medina. Courtesy of the family.

"Vance Joy was on tour with Taylor Swift and came to the station and spent an hour working on the song," says Mike. "The Grateful Dead heard about it and said, 'We want to be a part of it.' This was right before they did their 50th anniversary tours; they could be doing a million things with their time, and they took the time to do this. I was speechless."

Within eight months, they had close to a hundred bits of audio and video of dozens of artists performing parts of Archer's song — everyone from Hozier and Noel Gallagher to Steve Earle and Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.

Milky Chance even sang a few lines into an iPhone backstage at a concert, and Imagine Dragons and Sarah Silverman posed for photos holding a sign with the campaign's hashtag, #BoobProject:

@imaginedragons support the #boobproject! Do you? Pls watch video in bio and SHARE with friends #breastcancerawareness @bcrfcure
A photo posted by KFOG (@kfogradio) on



The great @sarahkatesilverman supports the #BoobProject, do you?
A photo posted by KFOG (@kfogradio) on

They edited together the footage, creating a star-studdedmusic video and single, and the proceeds benefit breast cancer research.

"It's so exciting to see it grow from innocent, tender beginnings," Mike says of the song."It's just a kid trying to make sense of something that even most adults find pretty hard to comprehend," he adds.

"Why is this disease affecting so many women? Why is this shattering so many lives?"

Through sales of the song and donations collected through BoobProject.Org, Mike and Christi hope to raise $100,000 or more for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Since the song came to life, Christi says she's seen a change in her son.Archer wasn't always the most outwardly expressive kid. "His compassion has grown," she says. "He's heeding his emotional side and he's learning that it's OK to do that."


The fam. Courtesy of the fam.

Both parents say they cry every time they hear the song. "It's made me hyper-aware of the relationship I have with my kid, and that I don't want to let him go," Christi says. "There are feelings of mortality, like I have to cherish this moment. I just love him so much."

Fortunately for the Nelsons, the second round of chemo treatment appears, so far, to have worked.

At Christi's recent three-month scan, no tumors were detected.

"I remember when she called me, I was grocery shopping," says Mike. "I walked around Safeway crying, pushing a shopping cart full of vegetables. I felt so happy."

Mike and Christi on a couple's getaway to the San Mateo Coast after Christi was first declared cancer-free, July 20, 2014. Photo by Mike Nelson. Courtesy of the family.

Mike is quick to note that for every story like Christi's, there are thousands of others with unhappy endings — a fact he hopes will change with continued research on the disease.

"When Christi turned 40, she went in for her first mammogram, but if she had put that off for a year or two, she wouldn't be here right now," he says, adding that he hopes the song will inspire people to put their health first. "Feel your boobs, have a doctor check it out, make sure you're OK."

Watch the "Boob Spelled Backwards Is Boob" video here:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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