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:

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."