Sam Corbett is the drummer for the critically acclaimed Canadian rock band, The Sheepdogs. In the summer of 2018, at the age of 34, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer

In a recent episode of the Don’t Change Much podcast, Sam opened up to host Dan Murphy about his diagnosis, his initial fears about dealing with the disease while he and his wife were expecting their first child and the creation of his solo album. 

Dan Murphy: Let’s go back to the summer of 2018; you had a life-altering moment when you were given a cancer diagnosis. 

Sam Corbett: In 2018, The Sheepdogs had just put out a new album, we were in the middle of touring, and my wife was about four or five months pregnant. I had a lot going on in my life. 

I was in the shower, I felt a lump, so I decided to get it checked out. Pretty quickly, they thought it was probably testicular cancer. I had to go through other tests, but they basically recommended right away to get surgery.

We had to cancel a couple of Sheepdog shows so that I could have my surgery in a timely fashion, which was a really big deal at the time. We had never, ever cancelled a Sheepdog show for any reason. So right away, it started having a pretty big impact on my life. 

Dan Murphy: Were you able to process the diagnosis right away, or did you instantly go into fight mode and not really think about what it meant? 

Sam Corbett: It was tough. I didn’t know if it had spread somewhere else or started somewhere else and spread there…The first thing I started thinking about was whether I’m going to be alive long enough for my daughter to be born or if I’m going to be alive long enough for her to remember who I am. It’s hard not to go to a pretty dark place when you’re dealing with something like that. 

A couple of months later, after some tests, I found out it had spread into my lymph nodes, so I had to undergo radiation therapy.

I was scared, I guess. I didn’t know what it meant for my life moving forward. It really made me reevaluate what I wanted out of life and made me realize how important becoming a parent was and how much I wanted that to be part of my life. And the possibility of missing out on that was something that really bummed me out.

Dan Murphy: How were you able to grow as a new musician on an individual level as you were going through this very difficult time?

Sam Corbett: I was doing my treatment, and one of the symptoms was fatigue. The rest of the band was out playing, and I thought I wanted to play too. I would try to play the drums, but I played for about 15 minutes, and I’d have to have like a two-hour nap. So I tried to find something that was a little less intense, and I started playing the piano. 

I started playing some songs that I knew, and it kind of morphed into writing some chord changes and melodies. It wasn’t really until a couple of months later, when I was back on tour with The Sheepdogs, and I started writing some lyrics to those songs, that I realized they were really about my cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Dan Murphy: Did it begin when you started playing the piano? Was that just because you wanted to stay connected to music, or was it therapeutic, do you think?

Sam Corbett: I think it was initially just to maintain my connection to music… And then, when I wrote the lyrics in full, it really did help me process what I was going through. Maybe in the same way that talking to a good friend or family member about it would.

I thought that was pretty interesting, the effect of writing something down or creating some art about what’s going on in your life. I’d never really had that therapeutic experience. But I really did find it to be the case for me in this instance…

I’d always kind of had this dream to write and record my own music, but I’d never really had a good enough reason. I didn’t think I had strong enough material. And then, certainly, having a life-altering event like having cancer will give you a kick in the butt to turn something like that into a reality.

Dan Murphy: Once you first realized that some of your lyrics were about your journey, and you might have something here, then did the songwriting process go from there where you knew you wanted to speak more about what’s happened to you? Or did that just come naturally? 

Sam Corbett: I thought it was good to talk about what had happened and raise awareness. For me personally, when I first felt a lump, testicular cancer was on my radar because my grandpa had it. He had it, I think, when he was in his forties, it was the 1950s, he lived, and I think he was 93 when he passed away.

I’m hoping if I talk about it openly, maybe somebody else who’s in their twenties or thirties, if they feel a lump in the shower, they might think, oh, hey, that guy from The Sheepdogs had it. Maybe I should get this checked out… 

I do think talking about having testicular cancer, hopefully, removes a bit of the stigma from it and gets people talking about it and more likely to get something checked out if they feel something.

Dan Murphy: Talk about the lifestyle changes; in addition to the meditation, have there been any others? Exercise, nutrition, or diet? 

Sam Corbett: All the above. The traditional rock and roll lifestyle is not a healthy one, obviously. And that’s definitely been a part of my life for sure. I was already leaning towards being a little bit more healthy with having a kid on the way and that kind of stuff.

It’s something I’ve leaned a lot more heavily into, and so meditation is a big part of that. Diet, exercise, that kind of stuff I was already interested in but became a lot more interested in. 

This might not be right for everybody, but for me personally, I’ve definitely cut back on my drinking a lot. There are a lot of great non-alcoholic beers these days, especially compared to five or ten years ago. So I’ll often just drink those instead… I kind of feel like I’m having a beer still. 

Dan Murphy: You knew your family history, so what would you say to guys that are in their twenties, thirties, maybe in their forties, about knowing their family history, about being proactive and taking care of themselves physically?

Sam Corbett: It really doesn’t hurt to get something checked out. Since I had testicular cancer a couple of years ago, there was another time when I thought I felt something a little unusual, and I thought, I gotta get this checked out. I went, it was nothing, and that was it.

It’s really not very hard to go get yourself checked out. There’s really no downside to doing it. It’s really only upside. Either it’s nothing, or you are early to the table as far as getting your treatment options and stuff. That’s very important. Family history, in my case, was very important because that made me a lot more likely to get myself checked out.

Put your health first because if you don’t put your health as a top priority, everything else is going to go away. I wouldn’t have a music career if I wasn’t a healthy individual and able to play these two-hour Sheepdog shows on the drums, right? That’s why I have to make health a priority for myself. 

Listen to the full podcast episode now:

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