My name is Lisa Nardi and I am a Dear Jack Foundation volunteer. In April of 2010, I found out that my friend, Kerry was diagnosed with AML (acute myeloid leukemia). A day that should’ve been spent celebrating her 24th birthday, she was dealing with this life changing news. On that day she also found out that her blood type was B+ (be positive) and that quickly became her mantra from then on out. A fundraiser was planned the summer after her diagnosis, and I wanted to help in any way I could. This was really my first time doing any type of fundraising. I had reached out to local businesses for donations as well as The Dear Jack Foundation & 11:11A.M. Steve from DJF reached out right away and was able to donate a Dear Jack DVD signed by Andrew McMahon & some DJF tee shirts (spoiler alert: I won the DVD :D). 11:11A.M. donated a Ruthless CD signed by Andrew as well.
Kerry was so excited over the news, as Andrew’s personal story resonated with her. She was even admitted into Sloan Kettering on floor 11, room 11 at one point, she took that as a good omen. During Kerry’s inpatient treatment she had gotten some “perks.” She had a Top Chef cook a private meal for her. Kerry, who was living in Canada at the time of her diagnosis, was a HUGE hockey fan, got to be center ice at a Rangers game and received a Callahan jersey. My friends and I even went Christmas caroling at Kerry’s house when she was able to be home from the holidays. But when her favorite band, the Dropkick Murphys, showed up to her hospital room and performed a few songs for her, she was ecstatic. Her anthem during her fight was “The Warrior’s Code” — “You fight for your life because the fighter never quits. You make the most of the hand you’re dealt because the quitter never wins.” — These words hung on her hospital room walls. The other things hanging on her walls were cards sent to her from all over the country, even as far as China. With the help of 11:11A.M., a Cards for Kerry campaign was launched. The support the 11:11A.M. / Andrew McMahon fans showed Kerry was awe inspiring. My personal card had all the lyrics to Jack’s Mannequin Swim written in it (what kind of Andrew McMahon fan would I be if I didn’t use Swim lyrics haha)! Seeing first-hand the impact the cards made on Kerry & her family is truly the inspiration behind every Warrior package that I put together and send out with the help of my best friend/partner in chalk ;), Stephanie.
The last time I got to see Kerry, was at her wedding reception. We shared many laughs in the girl’s bathroom that night, and it was just like any other time we would get together to sing horrible karaoke at the bar. I am forever grateful that I get to remember her that way. On July 10th, 2011, two months after her wedding, Kerry earned her angel wings. Soon after I knew I wanted to get a tattoo to remember Kerry by, but wasn’t sure what to get. I had somehow stumbled upon a video of Andrew explaining his tattoos, when finally he spoke about his Be Positive tattoo and how it was connected to his Uncle who had passed away from cancer. It was right then I knew what I wanted to get tattooed; “Everything’s a piece of everyone” from the song Caves by Jack’s Mannequin. When I went to get the tattoo, the artist said that I either needed a “smaller quote or a bigger foot” so I decided to get Be Positive.
Four years later the Dear Jack Foundation had launched the 72K challenge then Stephanie & I had started to host chalk events to help DJF reach their goal of $72,000, one dollar to represent each adolescent & young adult diagnosed with cancer a year. Once the LifeList program was put into place, my drive to raise money was even higher. Seeing how those types of experiences helped Kerry forget, maybe for a moment that she wasn’t a cancer patient, I knew I wanted to help more Warriors fighting so they too could forget just for a second. The greatest thing about the Dear Jack Foundation, & Andrew McMahon is the community surrounding them. Hell, Stephanie & I wouldn’t even be friends if not for Jack’s Mannequin. The friends we’ve gained because they wanted to come out to a chalk event to support what we were doing & help spread awareness around what Dear Jack is about, still amazes me! I will always be grateful for the Dear Jack Foundation for giving us an outlet to support AYA cancer patients and for giving me a way to keep Kerry’s memory alive. Although her time with us on Earth was way too short, her impact on my life has left an everlasting footprint on my heart. ***Be Positive***
Hi! My name is Stephanie Insalaco and I’ve been a Dear Jack Foundation supporter since its birth in 2006. My story’s timeline, however, is rather unconventional.
I was a devoted fan of Andrew and his music for years before his diagnosis. Like many other fans I knew, his music was a source of hope and happiness in my life. Back then, I was a young teen just trying to figure out life. So, when the news came out that he was sick, I was devastated. It felt like the universe was trying to take a dear friend away from me, even though at that point we hadn’t met yet. So, I became an avid supporter. From then, I’ve done about 5 Light the Night walks, and raised more money than I ever thought possible for DJF. At that point, Andrew was the only person on my radar who was battling cancer.
2011 changed a lot of things for me. I had decided to run the NYC Marathon in honor of Andrew’s survival with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. During my training, I raised over $4,000 for LLS and preached about DJF often. On race day, I sported my purple shirt with “Swim” lyrics written in sharpie. However, something else happened in 2011. My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.
No one ever thinks it’s going to happen to them. But there I stood in my bedroom as my mom told me the news through watery eyes, and I felt paralyzed. Life split into two categories: before mom got cancer and after mom got cancer. Thankfully, we met a miraculous oncologist who, to this day, is saving her life. I’ve learned lessons that only cancer can teach you. For example, chemotherapy can seem much worse than actual cancer, sleeping becomes the majority of her day, and a good hair day is reason enough to book a celebratory vacation! But all joking aside, my perception changed and is ever changing. Small things matter more, good days are much more appreciated, and you live more fully one day at a time. It’s a silver linings blessing in the midst of detrimental chaos. Then, my grandpa (my mother’s father) got diagnosed with leukemia. I felt like things were just crashing down around me. This is why I say my timeline is unconventional. But I did have one glimmer of light and it had everything to do with Andrew’s community.
AM Chalk was born in 2012 at the last Jack’s Mannequin show in LA. A new trend of writing lyrics with chalk on the sidewalk outside the venue began and it sparked an idea. My best friend Lisa and I started an Instagram account to document all the chalk art so people all over the country/world could see it. After a few months of posting colorful photos, I had the drive to turn it into a philanthropic endeavor. Lisa and I began hosting “chalk events” at Washington Square Park in Manhattan. Our first one brought in over $500 from strangers, passersby, kids, and anyone who wanted to join the chalking fun. Due to this event’s success, we made it a monthly event. People started recognizing us. It helped open up conversations around AYA cancer. We even met people who have been fans of Andrew for years. Some would even show us their tattoos of Andrew’s lyrics. It was a beautiful way to draw in good hearted people who shared a common interest.
Since its birth, AM Chalk has raised over $30,000 for the Dear Jack Foundation. Through chalk art, fundraising events at local bars, online sales of art prints and other handmade items, we continue to show our dedication to a cause that means so much to us. One of our favorite times of the year is when we collaborate with anyone willing to donate items for our Warrior care packages. To see these fighters smile gives every ounce of our efforts meaning. And what we hold on to is that even though we each have different specific reasons for our work towards this foundation, the common denominator is still there: a man and his music and the community he created.
Lisa and Stephanie (AM Chalk)
Authors: Lisa and Stephanie are founders of AM Chalk, an Andrew McMahon fan group dedicated to giving back to the Dear Jack Foundation.
“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.” – Elizabeth Andrew
The DJF staff would like to take a moment to thank all of our incredible volunteers. Thanks to you there have been smiles created within tragedy, love renewed with abundance, peace found in the darkest spaces and happiness shared at every opportunity. We appreciate all of you who share your time, your resources, and your hearts to our amazing cancer Warriors.