Life Is Beautiful
October 31, 2013
Spoiler alert: Jeremy Guenther is happy, alive, recovering and back on the job as of Monday, November 4th.
I wanted to start there because this is wonderful news; too wonderful to save for a final paragraph. It's also nothing short of astounding when you consider that less than a week ago (as of this writing); surgeons removed a tennis ball-sized tumor from Guenther's brain.
For those unfamiliar, Guenther has handled the Southwest region for Capitol Nashville since December of last year. He transitioned to the label side after 10 years as APD/MD for Clear Channel Country KSSN/Little Rock.
But much of this year - and particularly the last couple weeks - has been what Gunther describes as "Just crazy." Two key storylines emerged during the past 14 days, says Guenther. "They stem from the love I got from the guys at UMG [Nashville] and finding reasons to have hope."
To fully explain, we'll rewind to January, shortly after Guenther joined Capitol. "I noticed that my handwriting was getting pretty bad," he explains. "Doctors diagnosed the problem as carpal tunnel syndrome and recommended surgery to my hand and elbow."
Despite feeling otherwise healthy, Guenther saw no improvement in his hand post-surgery and says in fact, "I was slowly losing function in my arm and shoulder." A scan of his spine came next, partially because he'd undergone back surgery when younger.
When that came back negative, Guenther literally had his head examined. "You just don't think brain tumor," he remembers. But on Friday, October 18th - one day before his 39th birthday! - Gunther was sitting across a neurosurgeon who told him, "You have a very large brain tumor."
Yes, it could be removed, but the procedure would be dangerous, doctors explained. "They said I may lose motor skills and/or memory," he says. "After that conversation, all I could think about was my two daughters. But I do remember thinking, 'I can't let this beat me.'"
Things moved at light speed after the diagnosis. Naturally, Guenther first called his wife; next, he dialed [UMG Nashville EVP/Promotion] Royce Risser. "The first thing he said was, 'Let's pray,'" he recalls. "Then Royce told me, 'We're going to beat this.'"
News of Jeremy's condition circulated quickly among industry friends. A call came from Big Machine's Mandy McCormack, herself a cancer survivor, who referred Guenther to Dr. Jonathan Berek, head of the Stanford Cancer Institute in California. On Monday, October 21st, UMG flew Guenther to Stanford where he met with Dr. Gary Steinberg, who immediately scheduled a Friday (10/25) surgery.
Remarkably, Guenther was kept awake during the entire eight-hour procedure. "As they got to the tumor and began removing it, they were asking me what I was feeling along the way." Even more remarkable and at the surgeon's suggestion, Guenther actually called his wife during the operation.
Once fully removed, the tumor was sent for biopsy, which came back clear. Given that news, Guenther says he realized, "I get to be me again." Originally set to return to Little Rock on Friday, November 1st, Guenther was released early and arrived home Tuesday (10/29). Further illustrating his point about the UMG love he felt, MCA's Miranda McDonald flew to the Stanford Medical Center to check him out of the hospital after his wife - who is close to graduating law school - had to return home.
Guenther told me that while he's taking some prescribed steroids temporarily, he's not on any pain meds and describes himself as "fully functional." He'll be able to drive by Friday (11/1) and in fact, plans on driving from Little Rock to Nashville on Monday (11/4), with KSSN PD and friend Chad Heritage as his passenger.
His two-week ordeal now over, Guenther says, "I can't tell you how beautiful everything is these days." While he's gained a new perspective on life, he doesn't trivialize the work part of it, as is sometimes the case after traumatic health issues. "I'm happy to come back; I love my radio guys and they are some of my best friends."
But Guenther was adamant that I tell this story, too: "I am a blessed man. The amount of support I had from everyone at UMG was amazing and it started at the top, with [UMG Nashville Pres.] Mike Dungan, Royce Risser and [Capitol VP/Promotion] Steve Hodges."
"But it goes beyond just the staff," Guenther continues. "It's the artists, too; Jon Pardi came to the hospital; Luke Bryan and Little Big Town were constantly texting; Keith Urban and his wife Nicole kept checking on me through Dr. Berek. I get to represent the best artists in the genre, but they are also the best people. This makes me know I'm out there pulling for the right people. They deserve much more than they get out of me and they deserve to succeed."
Beyond the UMG building, Guenther was bombarded with e-mails and texts. "All of Nashville reached out," he says. "They gained a family member."
So, if you're coming to Nashville for CMA week, be sure to look for Jeremy Guenther. He'll be the guy with the biggest smile. Shake his hand, lean in for a shoulder bump or simply hug it out with the man. Just don't ask him to lift more than five pounds for a while. And if you've always wanted to see what a miracle looks like in person, Guenther says, "Just look at my head."