MG Autry and family in uniform
MG Autry and his family have a shared commitment to military service. Left to right, Joshua S. Autry (son), Andrew W. Autry (son), Nathaniel K. Autry(son), Eric Jenkins (son-in-law), Ju Autry (wife), and MG Autry.
MG Autry family hospital visit
MG Autry with members of his family and some friends who stopped by his hospital room to visit.

Editor’s note: Mr. Autry passed away on Jan. 18. His family is finishing his album, which is due out in February.

MG Autry of Smithfield, North Carolina, has lived a life dedicated to service. From his decorated military career that spanned more than 31 years, which included deployments in Iraq and Kuwait, to creating music that provides hope for those facing serious health issues, Autry is committed to helping others.

Autry, 55, knows the difficulties of having a life-threatening illness firsthand. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in July 2017, and his cancer has proven to be clinically challenging to treat.

During the past 18 months, he has undergone several courses of treatment, including participating in a clinical trial. His care team, led by UNC Lineberger’s Joshua Zeidner, MD, tried a chemotherapy regimen this summer that put Autry’s cancer into remission in October, but it also led to complications that required multiple hospitalizations. Autry learned last month that the cancer relapsed and has spread to other parts of his body.

Although the treatments haven’t produced a sustained response, Autry refuses to let it diminish his positive attitude. “It’s not easy,” says Autry. “But don’t quit. Don’t quit on yourself. Focus on yourself – don’t worry about your house, your job – focus on yourself and let the health care providers do their jobs.”

Zeidner says Autry’s outlook on life and spirit is inspiring.

“Mr. Autry had a lasting impression on me from the minute I first met him,” says Zeidner, who is an assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine Division of Hematology/Oncology. “He has such a positive outlook and attitude and takes everything with stride. After our initial discussion about his diagnosis of AML, treatment plan and overall outlook, Mr. Autry’s response was ‘bring it on!’ No matter how bad the situation, he always responds with positive energy and optimism.”

Laura Blanchard, PA, who is part of Autry’s care team, agrees. “His smile and energetic personality are contagious,” says Blanchard. “Even when he is feeling his lowest he continuously tries to make everyone else laugh. You always leave his room lifted up.”

Autry’s enthusiasm for life carries through into his music, which he has been writing and recording for several years. In 2018, he produced a music video parody of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling!”

Zeidner says the “Just Start The Healing” video, which includes footage of Autry and his care team at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, UNC Lineberger’s clinical home, is exemplary of Autry’s positive attitude. “It ignores the calamity and reinforces the positives of life with wit and humor,” says Zeidner. “He offers his voice to encourage others to make it through the day, to love their family, and to be happy and live in the moment.”

Autry says his cancer diagnosis motivated him to work on an album of songs that he believes can be therapeutic and inspirational for others who are experiencing health problems.

Working with Gary Braddy, a native North Carolinian who moved to Nashville for a career in music and has since returned to the Tar Heel State, the staff at Audio Farm Recording Studio, and Paul Barton of Studio 415, Autry has recorded a 20 song album. “A Veteran and his Songs Vol. 1,” is in the final stages of production and is expected to be released in February.

The album will feature a mix of musical genres, including country, rockabilly, rock and ballads, says Autry.

Autry wrote “Earth Angels” to acknowledge all what his caregivers have done for him and to express his gratitude for their care. Another song, “Archangels,” tells the story of three soldiers who were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. The song is personal to Autry. The brother of a soldier who survived the attack was the U.S. Army recruiter who enlisted three of Autry’s sons.

Autry says while making his music motivates him during his treatment, he credits his wife, Ju, his family and his friends as the source of his strength. “Family and friends are important,” he says. “Bring your family and your friends into the fold and embrace your caretakers.”

The Autrys have a blended family of eight children, and military service is part of the family fabric.

Ju is on active duty with the North Carolina National Guard, and four of their children are currently serving in the U.S. military. Autry says the military has been supportive of him and his family, including allowing his children to visit him while he is undergoing treatment.

In 2011, Autry and three of his sons, Andrew, Nathaniel and Joshua, were deployed together to Kuwait with the North Carolina National Guard’s 113th Sustainment Brigade from Greensboro. Their deployment garnered national attention, including a live interview on Fox News. Autry’s tour of duty in Iraq earned him the Bronze Star, and he has been nominated for the Legion of Merit in recognition of his military career.

Autry says service to others, be it in the military or in the community, is central to his life. Even when he is facing his own health challenges, he would have it no other way.

“Everyone should look for ways to give back. It’s our duty to each other. Personally, this country has given me so much, so what can I do to give back?” says Autry. “It gave me the best job in the world. It has given me the best medical treatment right here in Chapel Hill, close to home so it didn’t disrupt my family. So, I can give back while I am in the hospital by being in clinical studies, and they can use the data from the studies to develop better treatments for others.”

Media Contact: Bill Schaller, 919-962-3405, bill_schaller@med.unc.edu