updated 03/06/2013 AT 2:45 PM ET
•originally published 03/07/2013 AT 3:15 PM ET
After doctors told cancer patient Zach Sobiech, 17, he only had a year to live, the Minnesota high school senior turned to music – and inspired millions.
His emotional farewell song, “Clouds” was posted on YouTube Dec. 5 and went viral with over two million views and climbing, and has created interest from music industry insiders.
“I didn’t make ‘Clouds’ to get famous,” says Zach, who now has a songwriting contract from BMI, performed two concerts and just completed a new album titled Fix Me Up with his duo group A Firm Handshake, with singer and best friend Sammy Brown. “It’s pretty crazy now but it’s worth it.”
Back in 2009, then-14-year-old Zach, the third of four children, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a kind of bone cancer.
“It was the summer before he started ninth grade,” says his mom Laura. “He went for a run and when he got back he said his hip hurt.” What doctors initially thought was a simple muscle issue was later found to be an aggressive form of cancer. “In just three months the tumor grew to the size of a plum,” says Laura.
Despite countless surgeries and rounds of radiation, the cancer continued to spread. Last May, doctors gave a grim prognosis: Zach had up to a year to live. “We’re approaching that year mark,” says Zach, whose high school class graduates in June. “It’s scary to think about, but the key is to not feel bad for yourself.”
It’s that reflective, positive spirit that moved him to write the song “Clouds.” With lyrics like, “If I only had more time,” and “We’ll go up, but I’ll fly a little higher”, Zach, who has played guitar since he was 12, says, ‘[’Clouds”]’ was for me and for my family. I needed to get that emotion out and they wanted something they could remember me by.”
“I just sat down and cried,” says Laura, who discovered Zach’s song lyrics on a piece of paper while cleaning up. “I had no idea he had that in him.” After hearing the song, their local KS95 radio station offered to produce the video and the rest is Internet history.
Zach is using his remaining time and newfound fame to raise awareness and money for kids suffering from his rare form of cancer, teaming with the Children’s Cancer Research Fund to launch the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund. He’s already raised almost $80,000 to help fund research into a cure.
“My [type of] cancer hardly gets any funding,” says Zach. “Our goal is to give other kids with osteosarcoma a chance.”
Though Zach has gotten multiple music offers as well as recent invitation from America’s Got Talent, Laura says, “It can’t just be about Zach. It has to be about raising money and awareness to kill this disease. Our mission is to get the word out and show how to live with death looming.”
Though Zach has good days and bad, his mother says he’s doing his best to live each day to its fullest.
“There are days when he’s got to be in bed and feels miserable,” says Laura, “But he doesn’t let that part of his life ruin the rest. We really feel like there’s meaning behind suffering.”
Adds Zach, “We don’t know what the future holds, but we don’t have to worry about that yet.”
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