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Moonshine Mike living through Leukemia 'with music in his heart'

Posted at 7:45 AM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-19 07:45:03-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Michael Stallings love affair with music began in 1993.

A self-taught journey that's made him fluent in several string instruments, chief among them guitar.

"I’d listen to music on the radio and I’d record a cassette tape," Stallings said.

"Then I’d try to play along on the top string. I just kept rewinding and playing and rewinding and playing it.”

Over the years, Stallings has developed a philosophy when it comes to music and really everything in life.

Everything has a heartbeat.

"It doesn't matter if it's the way the sun and moon circle the Earth or how the tides ebb and flow in the Ocean. It doesn't matter if it's your heartbeat or the rhythm of the music," Stallings said.

"Music is a part of everyone. Music makes everything better."

Playing a happy tune is part of what turns Michael Stallings into "Moonshine Mike."

The other part of the name, naturally, comes from his mastery of making moonshine over the last two decades.

“I learned to make moonshine around the year 2006. I’ve taught a lot of classes at state parks and music festivals so people can actually see something of American history that is not seen very often," Stallings said.

His knowledge of the craft even got Moonshine Mike on Neflix.

Stallings was brought on as a consultant for the Bourbon King Documentary, with cataloged the Pappy Van Winkle heist.

Between music, moonshine, and his friends and family; Stallings had no complaints in life.

Until three years ago, when fate decided to change the tune of Moonshine Mike's song.

“I was working in my garden one day. I started feeling very dizzy. When I was feeling dizzy I thought I was dehydrated and just needed to go to the house and get some water," Stallings said.

"By the time I got to the house I was pouring sweat and I thought I was going to pass out.”

The next day, Stallings went to the VA hospital to get checked out, the first day of what would be more than a year of treatment and testing.

Then finally, he got an answer, one that no one every wanted to hear.

"They did a bone marrow biopsy a year later and then I was told that I have Leukemia," Stallings said.

That's when Stallings was moved to UK Hospital's Markey Cancer Center to start chemotherapy.

It didn't take long for the staff there to understand the man Moonshine Mike was when he arrived on the hospital floor.

“I have been with Mike for almost a year. We met last October. When he originally got diagnosed and started his treatment up here," Markey Cancer Center RN Katherine Harder said.

“Mike is full of joy. I always say it’s an honor to work with people going through the worst period of their life because they have resilience and they have a will to live and you see that In Mike.”

Chemotherapy took its toll on Stallings from the start.

Over the last year he's gone through multiple rounds of treatment as cancer came, went, and then returned.

“I lost my hair. I lost my beard. I was very sick. I did follow up chemotherapy over the next few months and then I went into remission. I was in remission for 60 days and then the cancer came back," Stallings said.

Despite all of this, Mike never lost the smile on his face.

He never let go of that love for music.

His guitar was always by his side as people came to visit him in the hospital, playing a few songs, and being taken to a place where nothing else mattered by the music.

“When you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness you have to make the best of everything. If you want to let yourself get depressed and to get down, it will take down," Stallings said.

"I try to approach every day with a smile on my face and music in my heart.”