When Evan Michael was undergoing a bone marrow transplant for acute myeloid leukemia, music was an important personal therapy.
Evan picked up his first guitar at age 10, and by the time he was diagnosed with leukemia at age 15, music had become a passion. He first underwent chemotherapy in his home state of Florida. Then, when Evan's leukemia returned nearly three years later, his doctors recommended a bone marrow transplant at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which pioneered the lifesaving treatment. So Evan's family relocated to Seattle.
Evan Michael, aka Riff Rockit
The transplant was exhausting, but music was always there to lift Evan's spirits. By 2001, about six months after he and his family came to Seattle, Evan was declared cancer free.
He went on to study songwriting at Berklee College of Music in Boston. But he didn't know his experience surviving cancer would shape his career. While performing at a summer camp for kids with cancer in 2008, Evan realized writing and performing children's music was his true calling.
"It was way more satisfying playing for kids than adults," he said. "Kids are engaged, you either have their attention or you don't, and it's a joy to create music that makes them happy."
That experience inspired Evan to create his on-stage persona, Riff Rockit, and release a debut album in 2012 that is available through most online retailers. Riff and his band of puppets play shows at children's venues around California (Evan now lives in Los Angeles). The music is a throwback to ‘80s and ‘90s anthem rock and carries messages of positivity, healthy living and learning — messages that Evan learned from his mother, Rochelle Greenberg.
Rochelle lives outside of Hollywood, Fla. and volunteers in the hematology/oncology ward at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. The kids there call her the "cookie lady" because she hands out fresh cookies and smiles. It's a sign of how, more than 15 years after Evan was diagnosed, she remembers how important it is for kids with cancer to feel loved and supported.
"People think my volunteer work must be sad, but to me the hospital captures the way the world should be," she said. "There, everyone's goal is to make kids healthy."
Rochelle often tells her son's story to the kids. She said it's inspiring for them to know that there's someone who went through what they might be experiencing and is now healthy and happy. Evan takes that as a sign he is succeeding.
"I just want to show kids that when you get sick, you can also get better," he said.