By Leslie Buttonow
Upon being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2010, professional drummer April Samuels was immediately motivated to do something to help others in her situation. That year, she paired her will to fight breast cancer with her love of drumming, and created the motto “Breast Cancer Can Stick It!” That motto can now be seen on shirts, water bottles, bags, bass drum heads, and cars across the country, proudly displayed by people supporting her efforts to raise awareness and funds for research, clinical trials and a cure for breast cancer.
In 2011, Samuels assembled a team and they got to work organizing breast cancer awareness walks and music-related fundraisers. By 2013, Samuels had turned Breast Cancer Can Stick It! into a full nonprofit foundation to raise awareness and funds for a cure.
Since 2010, Samuels and her dedicated team of volunteers have raised nearly $200,000.
For more information, find Breast Cancer Can Stick It! on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or visit breastcancercanstickit.org
WiMN: Thank you for joining us for this interview. How have you been feeling these days?
AS: Thanks for having me. I’m feeling great! I celebrated eight years cancer-free on November 10, 2018, and this past summer, I was released from my oncologist! While it’s exciting, it’s also scary to be back out into the world, not being monitored. But I’m thrilled to hit the eight-year milestone. At this point, my oncologist says I’m just as likely to get cancer now as someone who was never diagnosed.
WiMN: Wow, that’s great news! Can you share a little about your musical background?
AS: Sure! When I was five years old, my mom and I were hanging out in a music store waiting for my brother to finish his guitar lesson. I ran across a pair of drumsticks and tugged on my mom’s leg, begging her to buy them for me. She finally did. I began beating on everything in sight at home. My parents put me in drum lessons and said if I kept up with it, then at age 11 they’d buy me a drum set. Sure enough, age 11 rolled around and I was still very into drumming, so they bought me my first kit.
My brother and I jammed around with friends at our house for years in various garage bands, but it wasn’t until I was 19 that I really started playing out. Since that time, I’ve gigged or recorded with nearly 50 different groups. Currently I’m in three bands: 1) Metal Shop Dallas, who I have been with since early 2012 – we play around 120 shows per year across Texas and Louisiana; 2) The Breast Cancer Can Stick It! Band that I created in 2015, mostly for events for our nonprofit; and 3) an original rock-pop-funk-jazzy project called 49th Vibration, a group we started in 2006 – we just released a full length album available through Amazon, Spotify and iTunes.
WiMN: How did your foundation come to be once you created your motto after your initial diagnosis?
AS: I came up with the slogan “Breast Cancer Can Stick It!” just a few weeks after my diagnosis in late 2010 out of a deep desire to help others facing the disease. The decision proved to be therapeutic. I was able to focus on something very positive during a tough time. I was diagnosed, then had a double mastectomy just two weeks later, followed by four months of chemo. Still, with all this going on, I was struck by the desire to combine my passion for drumming with my passion for fighting breast cancer so that I could help others.
The idea started off with just making shirts and selling them to raise funds for existing breast cancer-fighting nonprofits. The shirts were selling as one-offs so quickly that I had to start ordering them in bulk. I sold them out of my car and continued finding other inventive ways to raise more funds, through gigs through raffles, contests, auctions etc. I was raising thousands per year when finally my accountant said to me “You are raising so much in funds, it would make more sense to form a nonprofit yourself.” And with that, by May 2013, we were an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Since then, we have raised over $200,000 in the fight against breast cancer, funding mammograms, financial assistance, and research and trials. We are 100% volunteer, too. You’d be hard pressed to find another 100% volunteer nonprofit making this kind of impact. Our volunteers and donors are simply like no other.
WiMN: How have you been able to combine your love of music and your musical background with events to help raise money and awareness?
AS: Year after year, we hold events all over Texas, but it was starting our annual Drummathon in 2015 that was a game changer. A friend reached out to me early that year with the idea. He told me of a Drummathon event they held in the 1980s in north Dallas where a handful of 10 drummers or so would go door to door getting pledges in advance of their Drummathon event. The day of the event, normally held at a park, each drummer would solo as long as they could. Many times, they’d solo for over an hour straight!
I wanted to take the idea and change it up. I decided to instead make it so that drummers could raise funds online, then the top 35 fundraisers would earn a two-minute solo on a stage at the beautiful Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas. They would perform not only in front of friends and family, but in front of the celebrity guest drummers we’d have as well. The event has already seen legendary drummers Carmine and Vinny Appice, as well as drummers from Jason Aldean, P!NK, Joan Jett, Big & Rich, and more. The top fundraiser solos are interspersed with live bands, drumlines, and more, in the midst of other family-friendly, festival-like events such as autograph sessions, raffles, auctions, vendor booths and food trucks. The first Breast Cancer Can Stick It! Drummathon in 2015 raised over $13,000, and has grown consistently each year. In this our fourth year, Drummathon 2018 broke our goal of $50,000, by reaching OVER $55,000!
WiMN: What are some things you’ve learned from your experience about self-care that might be beneficial to our readers, especially those who are working themselves hard to pursue their dream?
AS: Staying in shape, exercise and eating right are critical to overall good health. Some of the best things you can do to prevent cancer are maintain a healthy body weight, exercise daily – at minimum by walking 30 minutes per day, eat a low fat diet and limit your weekly alcohol intake to 3-4 drinks per week. A perfect role model for someone who works hard pursuing their dreams and who maintains this healthy lifestyle is drummer extraordinaire, Kenny Aronoff. That guy is not only an amazing drummer, but he’s built like a tank. He is 65 and in far better shape than most of us who are years younger! He is a true inspiration.
WiMN: Where can our readers see you perform these days?
AS: I play primarily throughout Texas and Louisiana with Metal Shop, plus a handful of shows per year with The Breast Cancer Can Stick It! Band and 49th Vibration – my calendar is at aprilsamuels.com. I’d love to see ya at a show!
WiMN: In closing, are there any upcoming foundation initiatives or new research you’d like to share?
AS: Each year at Breast Cancer Can Stick It!, we raise our contributions to our three main programs of research and trials, financial assistance for treatment and mammograms. The research and trials we support are making strides each year – both in immunotherapy and in honing in on genes that can lead to breast cancer. It’s exciting to see the progress year after year. The trials continue to show great promise, and we are honored to be a part of it.