No rising artist ever anticipates making a comeback when the world is still getting to know their music. But that’s where Jackie Lee, 26, finds himself today.
Since June 2016 and before the age of 30, Lee has quietly faced three cancer battles. And two were his own.
That month, his mother, LaDonna Glee Midkiff, lost her battle with cancer. Then approximately three months later, doctors diagnosed Lee with testicular cancer. Lee says he was on the road writing songs in Cleveland, Ohio with Florida Georgia Line when he first started noticing symptoms of his disease.
“That December I had surgery to remove my cancer,” Lee tells CMT.com. “We did scans and blood work, and everything was clear. I continued with life, and then my girlfriend and I ended up breaking up, and I ended up leaving my record label.”
A year after his mother died, he had a songwriting appointment with hit-makers Sean McConnell (Brothers Osborne’s “Pawn Shop”) and Barry Dean (Little Big Town’s “Pontoon”), and together they wrote “Long Year” inspired by the tumultuous year Lee was handed. At the time they wrote it, Lee thought no one would ever relate to it because it was so singular to his experience.
“I just thought it was a very specific song for me that day,” Lee says. “It’s a story about needing my mom and missing my mom, and it’s also displaying what I went through personally, too. I needed this song, but because it comes from a very emotional place, I didn’t think it was a song people could relate to.”
In August 2017, the same month Lee joined Dan + Shay’s Obsessed tour, a routine scan showed his cancer had returned. A team of three doctors oversaw Lee’s chemotherapy treatment including the man who saved Lance Armstrong’s life, Dr. Lawrence Einhorn. He was the one who told Lee, “This isn’t about prolonging your life; this is about curing you so you can live the rest of your life.”
“I did my first round of chemo in October, and I even had shows through the first weekend in November. I was hopeful throughout the whole process, and obviously, nobody wants cancer. They were very hopeful from the beginning. Now my hair is coming back, which I’m super stoked about. I’m super thankful.”
Lee video-blogged his second round with cancer, which is now in remission, and the footage was used for the official music video for “Long Year.”
“I contemplated not letting anyone know; not doing this video and all of it,” Lee says. “I didn’t want to be known as the guy who had cancer.
“But my producer Aaron Eshuis, said it best, ‘This isn’t your story, this is just a part of your story.’ My hope with this video, whoever watches it, is that it encourages others to see that I’m a regular person that got dealt some pretty crappy cards, and I found a way to overcome it and get through it. I want people to know they can, too.”
Lee continues to show what it means to thrive after cancer. Thursday marked his first show of the year, and he continues to write songs with the purpose of making the best music he can. One song he’s looking forward to everyone hearing is his recording of a Chris Young original titled, “Comeback.”
“It’s basically about we could make a comeback if you come back to the relationship,” Lee says. “I related to the song because my mom during her sickness had handwritten sticky notes all over the house. Some of them were Bible verses, some were inspirational quotes, and some were just funny jokes.
“My brother collected a handful of them and put them in a shadowbox, and the one in the middle says, ‘Your setback is a setup for a comeback.’ It just felt natural to cut a couple outside songs, and that was the one that felt natural to record.”
When asked what he wants his fans to take away from his story, he says hope.
“Life’s not fun for everybody at times,” he says, “and it’s not about what happens to you, it’s what you do with it. And I’m not always saying your reaction has to be great either. But as long as you know it’s going to be alright; you’re going to get through it.”