Rocking Out Cancer
Local Music Icon Uses Stage to Inspire Others
From the beginning of his career in the music industry, Jerry Bryant, Emmy-award-winning host of JBTV, has paved his own path. His journey with stage 4 colorectal cancer is no different. Now, he’s using his microphone to inspire others and spread health awareness — on his own terms.
A Shared Love for Music
Three decades ago, Jerry bought his own camera and published a 3-minute piece on cable television. This set the stage for him to create JBTV, the longest-running music television program dedicated to introducing the world to new artists. Jerry brought his viewers acts like Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Imagine Dragons and No Doubt before they became household names.
“I’m a workaholic,” Jerry admits. “I edit, host, run the camera and work with the interns, who help run the show.” So when he started experiencing concerning symptoms, like digestive issues and pain in his stomach, around the holidays, he kept pushing them off and concentrating on his work. “I was working non-stop until I finally decided to go to Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care.”
It was there that he was encouraged to get a colonoscopy at the Northwestern Medicine Digestive Health Center. Upon the discovery of a tumor by Stephen Chang, MD, gastroenterologist, Jerry was referred to Mike McGee, MD, colon and rectal surgeon. An avid fan of music himself, Dr. McGee struck a chord with Jerry immediately. He says, “Jerry’s a legend. I knew of JBTV from the 90s, but my love for music pales in comparison to Jerry.”
Despite their pleasant visit, Jerry thought he’d wait a few months before surgery given his busy schedule during the concert and festival season. Then on Memorial Day weekend, Jerry and his friend were walking along the bicycle path and taking in the Chicago skyline when a familiar face stopped them: Dr. McGee was out teaching his daughter to ride a bike.
“Jerry’s easy to spot, because he’s a music legend,” says Dr. McGee. “We had a nice, though unexpected talk. I told him I was worried about the tumor and there was also concern of a lung nodule that needed more work-up. That conversation sort of kicked things off.”
Blending Music and Healing
Jerry called Northwestern Medicine the next day to schedule surgery. In June, with The Wombats playing overhead in the operating room, Jerry underwent surgery to remove tumors from his colon. “Being able to listen to music for the majority of my day in the operating room is part of why I love my job,” admits Dr. McGee.
True to suspicion, Jerry would require an additional surgery to eradicate his lung nodule. Ankit Bharat, MD, a thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, performed an additional surgery to resect a lung metastasis in July. Then, under the care of Devalingam Mahalingam, MD, PhD, hematologist and medical oncologist at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, Jerry began chemotherapy in August.
Prior to this journey, Jerry hadn’t experienced any other health concerns, and he thought he was in good health. Colorectal cancer usually doesn’t come with symptoms, which makes colonoscopies crucial in prevention and detection. “Colon cancer can be frustrating because a colonoscopy can prevent many cases by finding and removing precancerous polyps,” explains Dr. McGee.
The entire journey has been a culmination of two worlds coming together. In gratitude for his care, Jerry invited Dr. McGee and his family to attend a filming and to see The Wombats in concert. Dr. McGee says, “As a provider, caring for Jerry brought together two different worlds for me. Here is my job — my passion — which collided with my ‘normal person’ life of music, rock-and-roll, and fun from my younger days.”
“You live with things and try and make the best of it,” Jerry says, who has just recently completed his chemotherapy. “Music is the best therapy and was so important for my recovery.”
With the support of his friends and family from JBTV, Jerry has used his stage to create a meaningful platform. To help educate viewers, JBTV launched a Health Awareness segment. Ultimately, the goal is to share health awareness in an alternative way. “So many people take health for granted,” says Jerry. “My goal is to reach a younger crowd through the Health Awareness segments.”