Moonshine Mike living through leukemia ‘with music in his heart’

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

A self-taught career that allowed him to master several string instruments, first and foremost the guitar.

“I was listening to music on the radio and recording a tape,” Stallings said.

“Then I was trying to play on the top rope. I kept rewinding and playing and rewinding and playing.”

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

Everything has a heartbeat.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the way the sun and the moon revolve around the Earth or the way the tides come and go in the ocean. It doesn’t matter if it’s your heartbeat or the beat of the music,” said said Stallings.

“Music is 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 moonshine making over the past two decades.

“I learned to moonlight around 2006. I taught a lot of classes at state parks and music festivals so people could actually see something in American history that isn’t not seen very often,” Stallings said.

His knowledge of the craft even lured Moonshine Mike to Neflix.

Stallings was hired as a consultant for the Bourbon King documentary, starring the Pappy Van Winkle heist.

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

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

“I was working in my garden one day. I started to feel very dizzy. When I felt dizzy, I thought I was dehydrated and just needed to go home and get some water,” Stallings said.

“By the time I got home I was sweating and thought I was going to pass out.”

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

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

“They did a bone marrow biopsy a year later, and then I was told I had leukemia,” Stallings said.

It was then that Stallings was transferred to the UK hospital’s Markey Cancer Center to begin chemotherapy.

It didn’t take long for the staff to realize the man that Moonshine Mike was when he arrived on the hospital floor.

“I’ve been with Mike for almost a year. We met last October. When he was originally diagnosed and started treatment here,” Katherine Harder told Markey Cancer Center.

“Mike is full of joy. I always say it’s an honor to work with people who are going through the worst time of their lives because they have resilience and they have the will to live and you see that at Mike’s.

Chemotherapy took its toll on Stallings early on.

Over the past year, he has gone through several rounds of treatment as the cancer came, went, and then came back.

“I lost my hair. I lost my beard. I was very ill. I went through chemotherapy over the next few months and then 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 gave up this love for music.

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

“When you are diagnosed with a terminal illness, you have to make the best of everything. If you want to let yourself get down and get down, it’s going to fall apart,” Stallings said.

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

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