Mary Beth Mueller, founder of KillKancer & wife of Soul Asylum’s Karl Mueller (1962-2005)
Mary Beth Mueller
On the 10th anniversary of Karl Mueller’s death, please join Emo At Heart in honoring his memory, his contributions to modern day rock music, and last but not least, The Karl Fund, the cancer research fund — now KillKancer — founded in his memory by his wife Mary Beth.
Karl Mueller was the bass player and one of the founding members of seminal alt rock band Soul Asylum. When he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2004, his hometown of Minneapolis rallied around him, putting on a benefit show to raise funds to help pay the medical bills Mueller and his wife Mary Beth had accumulated.
When Karl died eight months later, on June 17th, 2005, Mary Beth took action.
When Karl died there was still a fairly substantial amount of money in that fund that was created when we did that first show. I donated that to the research fund at the University of Minnesota, that’s when I started The Karl Fund. It was very narrow in scope, and it was just dedicated to finding a more humane surgical procedure for dealing with Karl’s type of cancer. It’s crazy how they attempt to save your life when you have esophageal cancer – Karl actually died from the treatment, not from the cancer itself. That was my initial reaction. I didn’t want to keep the money, I didn’t feel right keeping the money. It was raised for Karl, and so I started this endowment at the university.
In 2013, The Karl Fund became KillKancer, an official 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
The idea to form KillKancer came to me in a flash one morning. I had lost more friends to cancer in that first five years after Karl died, and I was making breakfast and looking around my own kitchen, and I’m looking at my organic eggs, and kale, and I thought – boy I live so differently now that I know not only to stay healthier – what if we could just not actually wait until we’re 40, 45, to change our lifestyle habits. Why am I spending time trying to solve a problem as opposed to just not having the problem in the first place? Why would be just be on the front end of this disease and live better?
I went to the computer and started looking at cancer prevention organizations, and saw that none of what I was seeing looks like anything I see on a daily basis.
I thought, “fuck, we could just do a whole lot better”. I know a lot of creative people, why can’t we just make this message be heard? We’re just losing too many people.
And that’s been KillKancer’s mission ever since — to help promote the kinds of positive changes you can make in your life to help prevent the eight types of preventable cancers. They work throughout the Twin Cities, sponsoring community gardens, buying new plants and getting them in to the ground, distributing to seeds to other facilities, and even enlisting the services of four formerly homeless youth to help pick up and deliver produce, sandwiches, and other goods to those centers in need.
While Soul Asylum continues to make music and tour, Karl is never out of mind; he is still introduced at every show, and is listed on the band’s Facebook page.
Soul Asylum at President Clinton’s first inauguration (1/20/93) – Mueller far right
When you talk to Mary Beth about KillKancer, even for just a few minutes, it’s abundantly clear that this is where her passion lies. They may still be small organization, but with a solid foundation and focused mission, there’s no telling how far they can go and how much reach and influence they’ll have.
I was so pissed off when Karl died, and I could not live my life as a bitter, pissed off person. How do you honor someone? How do you honor the life that you had? You can let resentment and anger and disappointment and all of those things describe you.
I don’t have the life I thought I was going to have, that’s for damn sure. I felt a robbed for a long time, and this seems to be the only thing that makes sense to me. Don’t let it happen to someone else if you can do something about it.
For more information about KillKancer, the eight types of preventable cancers, to get involved, or to share your own story; please visit: http://www.killkancer.org.
And a very special thanks to Mary Beth Mueller for being so gracious with her time for this feature and to Dana Gordon for facilitating this interview.