“We’ll find a way”, was the infamous phrase that I adopted when I first met Emily Nielsen nearly 9 years ago. There was just something about her. She brought out the adventure in me. And since I’ve known her, she’s never slowed down, so, I’ve tried to run alongside. Most of the time at a sprinter’s pace. Youth is supposed to mean leaping without a safety net, learning lessons the hard way, and blowing money like it’s the end of the world, right? And that’s what we did, and we were okay, for the most part…
Emily was just your average 20 something, alright she might’ve been a tad above average. A surfer at the age of 13 and a promising soccer star with a scholarship to San Diego State University, Emily was athletic. And even when an ACL tear caused her to trade soccer for water polo she stayed positive. She majored in costume design and immediately started her own fashion line called “Romantic Rock Designs”. Her interests weren’t just in sports and fashion but music as well. She’d been involved in the music industry at a young age, first selling merch, then eventually managing and booking bands. Somehow music was the one thing that tied her life together.
Emily and I met while teaching surfing on the La Jolla Shores and after getting to know her, she put my mediocre accomplishments to shame. She’d lived abroad, was well traveled and had this insatiable zest for life. She made me realize just how many things were possible in life. We were young and ambitious.
“We’ll find a way.” she’d say. And she was right. By the end of 2004 we’d seen more than 20 bands popular at that time for free. We’d roamed all over San Diego, L.A, and Santa Barbara. Thanks to Emily most of my fondest albeit foggiest memories came from our adventures. Things like sharing a cigarette and conversation with Paul Banks of Interpol, working on the Van’s Warped Tour and trekking across the country, making unmentionable memories at Punk Rock Bowling in Vegas and calling some pretty amazing musicians my friends. Emily always had some event we were supposed to go to, some adventure unplanned, some somebody to meet. Like I said, she never slowed down.
In 2006 at the age of 24, Emily delayed the pace when a doctor’s visit declared that she had stage II non Hodgkins Lymphoma. Cancer. How could this be? The athletic, vegetarian, 24 year old has cancer? C’mon, really? This isn’t supposed to happen.
Emily found herself uninsured and in disbelief. Her journey to remission became a snail’s pace of radiation, paperwork, and at times self doubt. he would call me distraught and defeated and for a mere second it felt like my best friend Emily had slowed down forever. Those thought quickly vanished after a while when I heard that not only was she in recovery but she had found a way to help the cause.
“Battling cancer makes you go through a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts about your life but one thing is certain, I looked at this battle like any another obstacle in my life. I wouldn’t let it beat me or better so slow down my life. I took it head on with my heart, my body and most of all my mind and now being over 5 years in remission I look back and wouldn’t change my battle for anything and now am trying to help others in the same fight to let them know they too can be a survivor.” says Nielsen.
She put her music industry contacts and connections to use when she decided to hold events where she could raise money for third party cancer charities. The thought occurred to her when she asked her friend, Tim McIlrath of Rise Against to pen his lyrics over a picture she painted. This sparked an idea to reach out to both friends like Tim, superstars like Christina Aguilera, and anyone else who’d listen and get involved. Rock Vs Cancer began. She’d set up someone who’d been influenced by cancer with a canvas and some paint, then let a musician pen lyrics over it and finally auction it off on Ebay with 100% of the proceeds going to various cancer charities.
To this day bands like Social Distortion, Incubus, Rise Against, Angels and Airwaves, Pepper, Pennywise, Bouncing Souls, Face to Face, MxPx, Thursday, Motion City Soundtrack, Underoath, Say Anything, Saves the Day, and Strung Out (who played the first ever Rock Vs Cancer in 2007) have all helped Emily give back. Over 30,000 dollars in funds have been raised thanks to this idea, and Emily, true to form, has no plans of slowing down. She’s currently planning another Rock Vs Cancer in Los Angeles labor day weekend 2013. For this event proceeds will go to Music Saves Lives, while past charities have included, Canteen, a company that assists children living with cancer and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
The truth is life happens. And life can be like an ocean, calm and still or rough and rigid. Some days are good, some days are bad, or maybe it’s just a matter of perspective. It doesn’t matter how old you are you can get a life threatening disease. You can be the richest of rich and lose it all (hello Donald Trump). You can be on your way to super surfdom and then lose your arm (hello Bethany Hamilton). Life turns on a dime. How will you handle the lemons in your life? How will you find the positive in all the negative? I’m not quite sure, but I know what Emily would say…”We’ll find a way” and that’s why she’s the perfect ripple effect.
If you know someone who’s making a difference whether it big or small, let us know about it. Go on now tell us your story at TheManifoldMag@Gmail.com