Andrew McMahon Looks Back on His 10 Years as a Cancer Survivor As Jack's Mannequin Hits the Road Again

by Emily Krauser 6:10 AM PST, January 18, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

Andrew McMahon isn't the type to slow down, but when New Year's rolled around, the singer knew he deserved some much needed R&R.

Ever since his breakthrough single, "Cecilia and the Satellite" -- dedicated to his 23-month-old daughter -- took off on radio, it's been a non-stop whirlwind of tour dates and shows for the veteran road warrior.

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"I'm going to take January and just rest for the first time in a long time and go on vacation with my family," McMahon told ETonline at last month's KROQ Almost Acoustic Concert in Inglewood, California.

The break will be short, however -- the 33-year-old singer is reuniting with his band, Jack's Mannequin, for a nearly sold out 10-year anniversary tour for their album, Everything In Transit, aptly called 10 Years in Transit. They already played one show in Anaheim, California, on New Year's Eve but the tour will truly kick off Jan. 20 in San Francisco before coming full circle to where McMahon began -- Orange County. After that, he'll start writing again, though he revealed that his camp already feels "like we have the first single off the next record, and we’re excited about it."

For emo and pop punk kids of the ‘00s, McMahon's first band, Something Corporate, was an iconic focal point of the scene. That's why it came as a surprise to both him and loyal fans that it took nearly 15 years of recording to see a mainstream breakthrough. But then again, McMahon has done a lot of growing up since his first SoCo album, releasing music with three bands -- he currently tours as Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness -- as well as a 2013 solo debut, The Pop Underground.

"I've always put a premium on modern music," he explained. "I believe in being modern and relevant and staying current. Bands like the Cold War Kids are my contemporaries, and these are people that blow my mind and move me. So the tricky thing about being in any single band is getting shackled to a sound, dynamic or approach to how you make your music, and I think that's why I've changed sounds. The goal is always to evolve -- I try to keep relevance and modern music in my sights when I create new sounds."

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One of the biggest experiences that helped McMahon evolve in both music and life was a pesronal battle -- McMahon is 10 years in remission after discovering he had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia in 2005 at age 22. That summer, Jack's Mannequin was supposed to embark on their first headlining tour, but instead, McMahon underwent two rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant from his sister.

"For me, 22 was really like most kids at 26, I had climbed a f**king mountain at 22 that most people hadn't," he pointed out.

McMahon feels his family and friends, espeically his wife, Kelly Hansch -- the two dated before his diagnosis and married in 2006 -- endured the most pain once he was in remission. It's common for many young adult cancer survivors to have trouble readjusting after treatment, as many feel they can't relate to friends who get to be "normal" twenty- and thirty-somethings, but that notion is rarely discussed.

"Maybe I was more or less equal to every [survivor], but I really did not take it in stride. A lot of people in my personal life suffered in the wake of my cancer, and a lot of other people survived in my cancer," he admitted. I think in the process of making me into a hero, a lot of people had to prop that vision of a hero up while I was systematically breaking down."

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The hero persona came more from others than the singer himself. As the frontman of Jack's Mannequin, McMahon was one of few young cancer survivors in the public eye. His dedication to providing a voice for this demographic only grew stronger when he founded the non-profit, Dear Jack Foundation, which advocates for and supports initiatives benefiting adolescents and young adults (AYA) with cancer.

Despite the strides he's taken in his personal life and for the AYA cancer community, McMahon has only come to terms with his illness in the last couple of years, because as most cancer patients know, the struggle doesn't end when treatment does.

"If I'm being perfectly honest about what cancer did to me in the six or seven years following, it f**king destroyed me," he revealed. "I put on a really good face and I really tried. You try to inspire people because they're inspired by us, and you try and feed the cause, because the cause can be fed by you. You try to donate your generosity of spirit, and you're a survivor to those who didn't survive."

"It took me until I finally got into therapy to forgive myself for the human wrecking ball that I was in the aftermath of my cancer, because I really was one," he added.

Now, it's time to look forward. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness released their first self-titled album in October 2014, and after the Jack's reunion, the California native will start concentrating on a follow-up before the band hits the road for a summer tour with Weezer and Panic! at the Disco.

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"I won't know if [the album] is done until I'm done. I could be halfway through or I could be 10 percent through," he said. "There are four or five songs I'm really connected to that aren't finished, but I feel like the heart and soul of them are there, so February, March and April will be, in theory, a telling period of creative time."

Plus, he's excited to spend more time with the girl who's helped him in countless ways -- Cecilia. McMahon hasn't figured out quite how he'll explain the hell known as cancer to her, but like the rest of fatherhood, he plans on figuring everything out along the way. "It's an on-the-fly game. I truthfully have no idea what I'll say, but I'll give my daughter the truth, period. She doesn’t get anything else," he told ETonline. "She knows Dad and she knows what we do. I want her to get dressed and wake up in the clothes she wants and ask the questions she wants answered, and I'll do my best to answer."

For more on McMahon's upcoming tour dates, check out his website.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @GoSugarhighGo