Mary Beth Mueller Q&A

June 28, 2021
Mary Beth Mueller is on a mission to Kill Kancer.

“After Karl died, I used the money from the Quest show to fund a research project at the U. It’s called The Karl Fund and the research is done by Dr Rafael Andrade. The goal is to have better surgical techniques and early detection for esophageal cancer. Dr. Andrade has made great progress and is developing a 3D bio-printed esophagus as well as surgical techniques that remove a layer of mucosa and not the entire organ. All that was great and all but it is lifestyle that creates the disease and it will be lifestyle that will save us.”

When did you decide you wanted to start Kill Kancer? 

After Karl died, I used the money from the Quest show to fund a research project at the U. It’s called The Karl Fund and the research is done by Dr Rafael Andrade. The goal is to have better surgical techniques and early detection for esophageal cancer. Dr. Andrade has made great progress and is developing a 3D bio-printed esophagus as well as surgical techniques that remove a layer of mucosa and not the entire organ. All that was great and all but it is lifestyle that creates the disease and it will be lifestyle that will save us. Even if the preventative measure is getting screened and finding the cancer early. I felt that the #preventionisthecure message was needed and had to be in tandem with research.

The 2004 Rock for Karl concert was amazing. The Hüsker Dü guys said Karl was the only person in the world they would have reunited for. And it’s true – they didn’t play together again. Was Karl able to enjoy all the love that night? 

It was a long time ago and that evening was just overwhelming. Of course, Karl was moved and grateful but he was a very private man and the men and women who played that night are our friends. It’s hard to put into words that level of gratitude. The gift they gave Karl at the end of his life was of incalculable value.

You’re passionate that early detection and treatment can do much to ward off the eight preventable cancers. Do you find that the invincibility of youth is often a barrier? 

Healthy habits need to be formed early and need to be reinforced by our surroundings. Today that is social media and movies, print ads. The glorification of smoking is mind-boggling. It is really hard to quit a stupid habit you picked up to look cool. I began smoking at 14 as the only rebellion at my disposal in suburban America. Our goal with the “Art of Prevention” is to create a more fun, beautiful, jarring way to rephase cancer prevention. Our campaigns are intentionally in your face.

What has most surprised you about running your own non-profit? Do you wear all the hats?

I wake up early. It is a lot of work. But I have always had massive help from my board of directors. Early on our friends Tom and Sarah Giel were instrumental in bringing the talent I needed to the board. You need to hustle for free everything when you are so small, legal, tax filing, grant writing, website design, etc. etc. It’s a lot. Then there is the creation of every year’s eight campaigns. Again, my board is stacked with talent. Sarah McNerney is the most brilliant artist and brand designer I have ever worked with. She guided the first four years of the Art Of Prevention campaigns. Currently I am doing the design with the help of Rachel Thompson, another board member.

I love your programs Gardens Kill Cancer, where you provide funding for city lots of green goodness, and Art Kills Cancer, where you commission posters that convey prevention messages. You also throw bowling parties and host music events and do lots of things. Do you enjoy the social aspects of bringing Kill Kancer to the community?

I do and I don’t. It’s hard to be on so much of the time. I did outdoor events every weekend for five years, which was hard. Kill Kancer is no longer funding gardens mostly because I gave away too much, OK all, of  our money and I didn’t budget for the main mission of cancer prevention. That is the beauty of having a board; they will keep you focused. Raising money is brutal and we have had to make hard decisions on how we spend what we can raise. Kill Kancer is streamlined to a fully digital presence. No one wanted to  purchase posters so we donate them now. We have also cut back to just the bowlathon and as we can easily raise what we need through that event. There was no 2020 bowlathon so this year I am self-funded.

As a direct result of The Karl Fund, the U of M has been able to develop a new drug to kill cancer cells. That’s remarkable. What do you think the next breakthrough will be in cancer research and treatment?

For sure that crazy 3D imaging. It’s like science fiction. Who knew we’d be printing body parts?

Are you able to listen to Soul Asylum albums? I found “The Silver Lining” painful but beautiful.

Oh no, not that one. Karl was really sick when he finished that record. I see Dave all the time and the new record is the best song-writing he’s done in years, in my opinion. You don’t really hang out at home and play your late husband’s records. I don’t listen to radio so I can stay nice and isolated. If there is a record I want I can go to Electric Fetus or Hymies.

What’s next for Kill Kancer?

Hopefully, we have the bowlathon in the fall and the success of that event will decide 2022. Our costs are minimal now and each of the eight campaigns cost about $750, so $6,000 annually. I do need to think about the art for 2022. I love the Ben Eine font we used this year. I also loved the original art from previous years. What we do next year depends on who I can get to help. My own goal is to raise enough money so I can hire an agency to do the images and social media strategy. We have an external media audit done on a yearly basis so that informs how we proceed.