Jackie Lee Reveals He Beat Cancer (Twice): ‘I Was in Shock’
Jackie Lee is ready to talk about the last two years. The "Leave the Light On" singer stayed out of the spotlight as he battled cancer not once, but twice — now, he hopes his story will help others.
In September of 2016, Lee was focused on everything but himself. He was still mourning the death of his mother, and he was head-down working on his career, rushing from one writing appointment to the next and always directing his energy toward the next minute, the next hour, the next day.
But then, time stopped.
A video for a song called "Long Year," coming Monday (May 21), shows Lee as he was going through chemo treatments for Stage 2 testicular cancer starting in October of 2017 — but his his cancer journey actually started much earlier.
"I was flying up to Cleveland in September of 2016 to meet up with Florida Georgia Line and all I can say is that something was feeling different," Lee tells Taste of Country. "In fact, I called my dad as soon as we landed to tell him about it. Now, you have to understand that I come from a culture where you rub some dirt on whatever hurts, and you move on ... I mean, I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t been to a doctor since I was a teenager."
His gut told him it was time to see someone. Lee found out in November of 2016 that he'd need surgery to remove a diseased testicle, but he didn't know it was cancer at that point. "'Getting Over You' was just coming out and me and my dad were the only ones who knew that I was going through this," he recalls. "In December of 2016, I had surgery and in January 2017, when I was on tour with Dan + Shay, I found out it was definitely cancer."
It continued to pile on from there: Lee and then-girlfriend Taylor Dye of country duo Maddie & Tae broke up that spring, and the up-and-coming country star lost his record deal. "So yeah, it was a really rough time," Lee says.
Then, in August 2017, a CAT scan, a PET scan and biopsy confirmed the unthinkable — not only had Lee's cancer returned after the surgery, but it had spread to his lymph system. Chemo was a must. "I was very thankful for what I did have," Lee says. "The doctor told me that my treatment’s goal was not to prolong life, but to cure it. I was very positive going into it."
Lee admits that it wasn't easy coming to terms with the diagnosis that he was facing cancer for a second time. "I was pretty pissed off for sure," the 26-year-old says. "I was in shock, but I just had to keep focused on this mindset to keep moving forward — no matter what. When I found out the cancer came back, I honestly didn't know if I was mad at God or if I was mad at the situation. I asked out loud, ‘Why did I have to deal with this?' It's definitely a perspective changer. I would be lying if I didn't tell you that Jesus and I have had a number of tough talks," he says, "But it was always as if He was telling me to trust Him and the purpose He had within all of this."
Lee's mother was just 47 when she died of cancer, and he says she helped him through his own battle, even without being there. "My mom was the toughest person I know," he says. "She always took on the burden of cancer with such grace. She was so sick, but she never used it as an excuse. She didn’t want people to know. My mom was always so full of faith, but there were times I was laying in my bed and I couldn’t roll over. There were a handful of days that I didn't think I could get out of bed. Those are the days I could hear her voice, loud and clear."
Jackie Lee Talks About Lessons Learned from his Mother
Leaning on his faith and his mother's memory, Lee found a new purpose: to share his story so he can help others. "I want to encourage everyone out there that if you feel something different, you need to do something about it," he insists. "You need to deal with it."
“People shouldn’t be ashamed to be vulnerable. It was hard for me to feel helpless — and trust me when I tell you that’s the only thing you feel when the doc says you have cancer and you need chemo," Lee continues. "But you fight, and you will find yourself on the other side. I mean, on my last day of chemo, I was on the treadmill. Today, I feel really good. My hair is coming back — because I was really worried about that. I spent essentially four and a half months in bed, and now that all is said and done, I feel like I have a really awesome opportunity to share my story, and perhaps people can learn from it."
With his cancer battle at his back, Lee says he is ready to move on and return to the road — he's even releasing a new song called "Comeback" on Friday (May 25). But he still wonders what God has waiting for him and why things are a little different after what he's been through.
“I love music with all of my heart, but I have to be honest. I think about moving to Africa and carrying water to babies. I’ve never thought that way before. I need to figure it out," he says. "I had such specific dreams when I came to Nashville and now, all those dreams have been shaken up. I know that I love to sing and I love to entertain people, so that’s what I am focusing on."
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