Rockin Through Adversity

Amy Nicole Tangel

Battling cancer, raising a family and sharing a passion for music is all a-day-in-the-life for one woman who is using her voice to entertain and unite people.

A 43-year-old front woman has led Long Island’s Bon Jovi tribute band for the past five years.  Living in Lindenhurst, NY, with her husband and three children, Michele Miller is in remission from a recent battle with breast cancer and she’s ready to get back onstage and pay forward.

Although the pandemic of COVID19 has been an unwelcomed additional concern for Michele’s health, she has not let it touch her spirit. She said staying home with her family and staying safe is her utmost priority because she is living with a compromised immune system while she continues to undergo immunotherapy treatment. But, for Michele, the music never stops.

“If you ask anyone that lives with me, when am I not singing?  It’s very comical around here,” she said.

After a hiatus from social gatherings and performing with her band Lay Your Hands on Me while she underwent treatment, she hit the stage for the first time in recent months with their comeback show at Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Smithtown, NY, on February 29, 2020.  Days later, the quarantine went into place and everything was halted for Michele’s comeback, but she said she is grateful she has that night to look back on and draw strength from to carry her through.

“There was so much support that night from the local town itself.  There were hundreds of people.  That place was packed,” she said.

Michele has not taken the delay in getting back onstage lying down and has started going live on Facebook every Saturday night for an interactive session with family, friends and fans.  She said she wanted to create something that was organic and provide a fun way to interact with people.  An average Saturday night at home has turned into a following of hundreds of comments, shares and views of Michele singing songs she loves from Bon Jovi to Halestorm to Bret Michaels.  She has created her own virtual stage from her phone and a way to continue moving forward.

“It’s an outlet for me and an outlet for maybe somebody else that is home and going through a little something, and this affected them a little more,” she said.

Paying forward to those who helped Michele along the way during her battle with breast cancer has become an especially important part of her road to recovery.  Days after Michele received her diagnosis in December 2018, her husband came home and told her he had been laid off from his job.  It was more than anyone should have to go through, and Michele’s family and friends along with the local music community immediately came together.  Last May, a benefit was held at Revolution in Amityville, NY, for Michele thanks to the generosity and support of countless people.  The event was named, “Big Benefit for Little Michele,” which raised more than $10,000 to help Michele and her family the day before she went into surgery for a double mastectomy.  Michele said she was blown away by the fact that 17 bands came together, in one venue, from across the island to support her.  The love and energy of that day from everyone is something she said she will never forget.

“It was like a festival.  I was so overwhelmed with everything that was going on.  I couldn’t believe that they had a fundraiser that big,” she said.

This past November, Michele and her family were featured on, Family Kitchen Revival, a new cooking show on Prime Video starring Chef Jonathan Scinto, where she was given an opportunity to say thank you to those who have helped carry her through difficult times.  Throughout the series, Scinto helps eight families across Long Island prepare a special meal to say thank you to those who have helped them through a rough time in life.  Michele said when she was approached to come on the show she was still going through treatment and feeling really sick, so the show waited until she finished her chemotherapy and she was ready to share her story.  With her family and her band gathered in her home, she gave thanks to them.

A poignant moment in the episode comes when Michele stands in the bathroom mirror and removes her wig; a reflection of her journey.  Known as “Little Michele” to some, she is recognizable today to many in the local music scene as the pint-sized rocker with the bandana and the cool wig, but losing her hair was a very sad reality for Michele to accept.

“That part was hard.  It really was.  Besides not feeling well, to feel like you don’t even look like yourself, it really messes with you.  I just kept trying to push forward and do these bandana things and wig things to help make me feel like me,” she said.

Michele has continued to give back through music by performing for various charitable events for cancer along with her band, and she said she is passionate about continuing to help others.  Ronald McDonald House, Contractors for Kids and Jacob’s Hope are just a few of the charities Michele has donated her time and talents to support throughout the years.  The band has performed for events such as Rocking the Road for a Cure’s (RTRFAC) 10th annual motorcycle run to benefit breast cancer and recently entered themselves in a silent auction held by Pink Aid Long Island, an organization to support those battling breast cancer, and will be performing an upcoming show for the winning bidder.  Performing at fundraisers as a band and individually throughout her career before her diagnosis has always been a part of her life, and now she is just continuing with new meaning. 

“Giving back has always been part of my life as a musician,” she said.

To check out Michele’s live sessions and to stay up to date with the band, you can follow them on Facebook at Lay Your Hands on Me.

*Photos Courtesy Michele Miller, James Dima, Oscar Castaneda & Sean Holifield

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