The Will to Survive

Megan McNeil wants to give kids fighting cancer The Will to Survive

The moment legendary producer Garth Richardson heard Megan McNeil’s The Will to Survive, he was in. McNeil’s lyrics had a wisdom well beyond their years and the chorus was so catchy, he found himself repeatedly humming it over the next few days. He wasn’t looking for a cause, but he’s always on the look out for a good song. In The Will to Survive, he found both.

“It’s one of those songs,” he says, “that’s going to be around for a long time, giving people strength when they need it most. Because while it is a song celebrating kids who are battling cancer, it’s also a kind of anthem for anyone who has ever faced terrible adversity. ”

A Juno winner who was also nominated for a Grammy, Richardson has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Hedley, Nickelback, Kiss, and Alice Cooper. He has an ear for talent and an ability to nurture emerging musicians. He did, after all, produce the self titled debut album for Rage Against the Machine.

Megan McNeil, now 19, has battled a form of adrenal cancer called Adrenalcortical Carcinoma since she was 16. She wrote The Will to Survive as a way of helping other, often younger children keep their courage up when illness made hope seem distant.

“I thought if only I can even help one other person, then the song will have meant something,” McNeil says, remember how lonely the childhood cancer journey can be. But it has grown to help many, especially those funding childhood cancer research at The James Fund, and BCCCPA, which provides financial support for families battling childhood cancer. Getting the word out on these two not for profit organizations is top of Megan’s list.

The melody came to McNeil one day while sitting in her bedroom. She refused to let herself leave until she had the melody down. After that, the words started coming. She began working on it with the Erin Johnson, the music therapist until she had something she felt was ready to start showing people. Dan Mornar, the family representative at the hospital took it to The Childhood Cancer Foundation whose then CEO David Stones and marketing director Mary Lye  helped to champion the project in its infancy. Richardson was given a copy of the song shortly thereafter.

As he has done for others songs supporting causes, including did like Young Artists for Haiti, Richardson pulled together a crackerjack team of producers, technicians, songwriters, and musicians all dedicated to making The Will to Survive to life the best song it could be. He sourced Indy cult-favourite singer/songwriter Ryan  McMahon to help fine tune the song’s lyrics and orchestration. McMahon also sang back up vocals, as did kids battling cancer.

Including cancer-fighting kids in the actual recording was McNeil’s idea, a way of recognizing the hope they give to each other. “They’re my heroes,” said McNeil, “they are who inspire me in my current fight with cancer.”

Although McNeil had lived cancer free for the previous year, the cancer returned in February 2010, and is in her arm and liver. She has already endured 20 rounds of chemo and there are fewer treatment options available to her. But she has beaten cancer three times previously, and she doesn’t plan on losing this time either.

“It doesn’t matter what your odds are, I believe as long as you have ‘the will to survive’, you can beat it no matter how low your chances may be. Cancer is pretty tough, but I like to think that the mind is 10 times more powerful.”

McNeil is making plans to go to return to school, where she’d like to become  a researcher, specifically looking into childhood cancers. That’s if a singing career doesn’t lure her away…

Meanwhile, McMahon is back in the recording studio making a new album two years after his album “Weeks, Months, Years” took CBC and much of Canada by storm.

And Richardson balances an insanely busy production schedule, which takes him frequently to London and New York, with the mentoring he does through Nimbus School of Recording Arts. Richardson founded Nimbus with Kevin Williams and music icon Bob Ezrin, renowned for his work with Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, Roberta Flack and the recent hit version of K’naan’s “Waving Flag” by Young Artists for Haiti, which debuted at number one on Billboard Magazine’s Canadian Hot 100.

The Will to Survive has a Facebook Page called I want to give children fighting cancer The Will to Survive where fans can get regular updates and the website features the latest news, videos and other information.

A video in support of the song is now available at

The song can be purchased on iTunes at and on Amazon at

A portion of every paid download of The Will to Survive will benefit childhood cancer causes, including The James Fund for Neuroblastoma Research and BCCCPA. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and Megan is hoping people will consider making a donation to a cause that specifically deals with childhood cancer.

But more than that, McNeil hopes that the song will help put childhood cancer on the radar screen. Research into adult cancers does very little to help fight childhood cancers, but research into childhood cancers helps fight adult cancers too. Childhood cancer is woefully underfunded, and families fighting childhood cancers endure terrible hardships, both emotional and financial.

She hopes The Will to Survive will elevate the cause of childhood cancer and send a message to those battling it that they are not alone.

Here’s to the fight.

Here’s to the fighters.

Here’s to the brave that take this on…


5 Responses to “The Will to Survive”
  1. David Stones says:

    Megan/Erin/Garth and the Recording Team: I remember hearing The Will To Survive for the first time during a Board meeting at the Childhood Cancer Foundation, thanks to Board member Dan Mornar who brought it from BC. I was very moved. The song resonated with everyone. We knew we had to do all we could to bring this song to life, to get it out there to inspire, uplift, to bring joy and hope. I’m so thrilled to see that happening! Congratulations to all who have worked so hard to make this possible. And to Megan, a special thanks for your dedication and courage in seeing this project through. Your song is a gift, a gift that will reap the rich dividend of hope thousands of times over .

    David Stones
    Former CEO, Childhood Cancer Foundation Canada

  2. Diana Birrell says:

    The James Fund is privileged to be part of The WIll to Survive project, to be inspired by Megan, to be supported by such good people, and to be renewed with hope by your work. We are proud to have the opportunity to work with our friends at BCCCPA in their support of families fighting childhood cancer, and we are grateful to all the professionals who have lent their talents to Megan’s outstanding song.

    We often talk about “the gifts that cancer brings”. Those who have travelled the road might understand. Megan is truly a gift to families fighting childhood cancer, and is an inspiration to anyone who is determined to use their talents to make the world a better place.

    Thank you!

    Diana Birrell
    Executive Director
    The James Fund for Neuroblastoma Research

  3. Judy Greck says:

    Just watched your video ,it was very inspriational and made you stop & remember that life is truly precious. You

    are a very talented person and my thoughts and prayers are with you.

  4. Carla says:

    Can you post the lyrics somewhere on the site?
    It is such an inspiring and I am touched each time I hear it!

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