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Format: 04/19/2014
Format: 04/19/2014

News

Beaver County Times: An industrial approach to battling cancer

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

By: Scott Tady

Beaver County Times
 

HARMONY TWP. — Jim Semonik experienced gut-wrenching emotions when, at age 31, he learned he had colorectal cancer.

He felt fear. Anger. Sorrow.

The Harmony Township native especially felt sorry for his mother, who a few years earlier had lost her husband, John Semonik, to cancer.

“I told her to please not worry, and that I would fight ’til my last breath,” Semonik said.

To wage that war, Semonik pushed aside his negative feelings, and followed a more productive path paved with defiance and determination.

Semonik knew what he needed to do: Fight cancer with the music he loved.

Loud music. Aggressive music. A style of music defined as “industrial.”

Two years later, after surgery and grueling hospital treatments, Semonik is deemed cancer-free, though he continues to battle the disease on behalf of others. He enlisted 83 of his favorite industrial artists to supply fresh songs for a five-CD set of music, “Electronic Saviors: Industrial Music to Cure Cancer,” which Semonik will release worldwide on Tuesday, including at select stores in the national Hot Topic chain. All proceeds will go to Cancer Recovery Foundation of America, a Harrisburg-based group that educates, empowers and encourages cancer patients and their families.

“This is a dream come true,” said Semonik, a 1994 Ambridge Area High School graduate who plays in a Pittsburgh industrial band, Rein(Forced), and promotes Pittsburgh concerts with nationally touring industrial bands. In his day job, Semonik works as a buyer for Eide’s Entertainment in Pittsburgh, making sure that independent record store is stocked with the latest industrial releases.

To an outsider, industrial music — with its pulsating beats, techno beeps and blips, and oft-screamed lyrics — might seem cold, hard and impersonal. But an aficionado such as Semonik appreciates the genre’s lyrical depth and raw, heart-on-its-sleeve emotions.

He turned to such music for comfort and diversion in May 2008, when he began rigorous chemo and radiation treatments at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

“The first five weeks were extremely brutal,” said Semonik, who dropped 30 pounds and had 18 inches of his large intestine and two malignant tumors surgically removed.

To pass the time during recovery, doctors encouraged him to listen to music. So amid recuperating from radiation blasts, Semonik cranked tunes by favorite industrial bands, including The Dark Clan, Iris and Chemlab.

The day after his final radiation treatment, Semonik mustered the strength to visit a Pittsburgh club where he had booked a show by 16 Volt, an industrial band he had first seen while at Penn State University. As 16 Volt unloaded its gear, Semonik approached singer Eric Powell and floated the idea for a compilation CD raising money for cancer.

Powell accepted immediately, noting that he had lost two grandparents to cancer, and that his mother-in-law was undergoing chemo for lung cancer.

Semonik began reaching out to other industrial artists with whom which he had forged business relationships. Those bands didn’t hesitate to help.

“Jim’s one of the guys who has kept the underground electronic scene going in the East Coast for years (so) having the man ask us to submit a song for this compilation was a no-brainer,” said Sean Payne of the Chicago band Cyanotic, which supplied the song “Axiom” that appears on Disc One.

Dan Clark, of the Milwaukee band The Dark Clan, also leaped at the chance to help Semonik’s cause.

“His fortitude and honesty and amazingly upbeat attitude in the face of our species’ greatest killer and the pain and horror it forced him to endure were all the inspiration any artist should need to celebrate the strength of the human spirit,” Clark writes in the “Electronic Saviors” liner notes.

Advertisement Some of the contributed songs, such as “Notes from a War” by Madison, Wis., band Stromkern, specifically address cancer. Nearly every song imparts a message of standing strong in the face of adversity.

That’s what Semonik did, and now he’s living proof that — in some cases — courage and hope, coupled with support from doctors and loved ones, can turn back cancer.

“Jim’s approach to his disease and to his life is inspirational, not just to other patients but for those of us who care for patients with malignancies,” said Dr. David Medich, leader of the Allegheny General Hospital staff that treated Semonik. “He has taken on life’s greatest challenge at such a young age, and done so with exceptional grace and courage.”

To read more, visit the Beaver County Times website.

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