Jim MacDonald knew something was wrong in December of 2011. “I had a lump under my arm, and went to see my doctor who ordered a biopsy. My doctor suspected cancer, and the biopsy results confirmed that I had non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”
The music producer and songwriter says, “Once you learn you have cancer, the word ‘cancer’ kind of scares you, and you go through all the emotions with it. Everything that you planned on, that you wanted to do or thought about doing and what you thought was so important really isn’t important anymore. You think about living and what you’ve got to go through.
“I know everyone goes through the emotions of being scared, being afraid, what are they going to do to me, then but then, all of a sudden you have to make up your mind that you’re going to have to deal with it. The biggest thing is just going ahead and accepting it and moving on and deal with it. If you’re spiritual, that makes a whole lot of difference.”
Jim began a seven-month chemotherapy regimen with Dr. Steven Park, UNC Lineberger medical oncologist. “When you go through chemo, you’re around other cancer patients and you all build a bond. Everybody helps everybody else get through it. Everyone is on a first-name basis, no matter if it’s ovarian, breast cancer or some other kind of cancer. We all know the deal. We’re in there to plug for each other.” He says, “The nurses and doctors at UNC made the best out of a not-fun situation. Everyone there has been super.”
After finishing his chemotherapy, Jim qualified for a study of a new drug and decided to participate in a clinical trial. “Dr. Park thought it would be good for me. I took part because somebody did it for me, so it’s just payback. I was in it for a year, and so far things have been good. I have been in remission for 16 months.”
Jim used his cancer experience to co-write a song titled “Every Day is Christmas,” describing his two-week stay at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, shortly after he was diagnosed. His co-author is singer-songwriter Emily Lynch. Listen to the song here.
Jim comes from a musical and poetic family. His grandfather was a lighthouse keeper in Nova Scotia who wrote many songs and poems in Scottish Gaelic. His poems are still taught in Edinburgh, Scotland, and one of his songs, “The Happy Island,” has been covered by numerous musicians.
“I think I got some of my writing ability from my grandfather,” he explains. “My ideas for songs come from real life. Everybody has a story and once I hear it, I get ideas to shape a song.”
Jim has also shaped careers. Over the years, he has mentored young musicians such as Clay Aiken and Scotty McCreery, when they were starting their careers. He has written or co-written numerous country, blues, beach, and gospel songs.