Mesothelioma Survivor’s Music Foundation Helps Ohio Venues, Bands During COVID-19 Pandemic

John Panza, a Cleveland musician and college professor, created the Panza Foundation to give back to local musicians after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. The foundation provides grants to bands so they can record music and tour. In 2021, the foundation sponsored Cleveland venues so they could survive the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Learn about John’s journey with mesothelioma and the foundation’s work below.

Panza Foundation Offers Hope to Ohio Music Venues & Bands

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact daily life — including the ability to see live music — a mesothelioma survivor is taking strides to help keep music venues and bands in Ohio afloat.

John Panza, a musician who was diagnosed with mesothelioma almost a decade ago, established the Panza Foundation in 2014 as a way to sponsor local bands and help the music community.

“The foundation gives me the chance to give back to the music scene, a scene that has given me so much since I started attending shows 30 years ago. We support bands that want to advance their careers, their creativity, their musical spheres. These are things that have sustained me as a musician and cancer patient.”

— John Panza, Panza Foundation president & mesothelioma survivor

Due to the crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the live music industry, the Panza Foundation gave four venues economic grants in 2021.

John Panza still continues to battle mesothelioma today while running the foundation. Thankfully, his family, music, and work with the foundation gives him the courage to keep fighting.

John Panza: Musician, Professor, Mesothelioma Survivor

John Panza’s life is anything but boring. Outside of his work with the foundation, he serves as an English college professor and plays in several bands that tour around the country.

He does all this while battling pleural mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that first forms in the lining of the lungs.

John received his cancer diagnosis in 2012. While most people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in their 70s or beyond, John’s diagnosis came when he was just 38.

“I was sad. Then I was pissed. Then I was resolved to beat it. Then I realized that nobody ever really beats it, per se, but that I’d fight it.”

— John Panza

John received a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and a surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) to treat his cancer shortly after diagnosis. The surgery removed the lung closest to the cancer along with his lung lining, heart lining, half of his diaphragm, and a rib.

John almost died in 2013 when he developed an infection in the space of his chest which turned septic. Thankfully, he survived and his cancer went into remission for several years, allowing him to start teaching, recording, and touring again.

The Panza Foundation in Action

After his near-death experience in 2013, John became inspired to start the Panza Foundation and give back to his musical community.

“One evening while talking about the music scene, I asked [my bandmate] what bands need. She replied, “Money.” The answer was so simple. That was the seed that germinated for a couple years and then grew into the Panza Foundation.”

— John Panza

There isn’t an application process. Instead, board members choose local bands they like and vote on which ones will receive the grants. Over 20 local bands have received grants from the foundation since 2014.

The grants allow musicians to accomplish a variety of tasks they wouldn’t be able to otherwise, from funding recording sessions to paying for tour expenses. The money from the Panza Foundation is especially important for underground musicians, as money can be very scarce.

“The foundation gives me the chance to give back to the music scene, a scene that has given me so much since I started attending shows 30 years ago. We support bands that want to advance their careers, their creativity, their musical spheres. These are things that have sustained me as a musician and cancer patient.”

— John Panza

Of course, a critical aspect of any music scene is the concert venues, which is why the foundation decided to sponsor venues in 2021 rather than bands.

The four Cleveland venues that received the grants this year included:

  • Grog Shop
  • Mahall’s Twenty Lanes
  • The Beachland Ballroom and Tavern
  • The Happy Dog

The venues can use the money in any way they see fit. However, the Panza Foundation encouraged them to use the funds to either create a concert series or offset increases in ticket prices as a result of the pandemic.

The Future of the Panza Foundation

In 2022, the Panza Foundation will return to sponsoring bands as venues have started to receive COVID-19 relief funds from the 2021 Save Our Stages Act. Beyond that, the foundation shows no signs of stopping. John hopes that the Panza Foundation will continue to help local musicians long into the future.

All the while, John is still battling mesothelioma. His cancer returned in 2017 and spread to several lymph nodes. He was treated with chemotherapy and a cancerous lymph node had to be removed.

“And now nine years later I continue to fight it, like a never ending war. Is it exhausting? Yes. Demoralizing? Often. Worthwhile? Yes. I have a wife and a child and bandmates and colleagues and students who rely on me. I don’t want to let them down.”

— John Panza

Still, John remains optimistic about the Panza Foundation and the legacy it will leave on Cleveland’s independent music scene.

“We created the foundation to exist beyond me, my wife, my friends…all of our lifetimes. It is a well-positioned, dynamically supported, and laser-focused project. We designed it to do one thing and one thing only: financially support the Cleveland underground music scene. To that end, we will continue to raise funds to give to the projects we support in the hope that Cleveland’s scene continues to thrive.”

— John Panza

*Photo credit: Byron Miller

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3 references
  1. Panza, J. (2016, January 15). My Cancer Birthday. Retrieved August 23, 2021, from https://www.curemeso.org/2016/01/15/cancer-birthday/
  2. Stewart. (2021, February 12). Panza foundation Gives Northeast Ohio music venues a Major lift. Retrieved August 23, 2021, from https://clevelandmagazine.com/entertainment/music/articles/panza-foundation-gives-northeast-ohio-music-venues-a-major-lift
  3. Bruck, T. (2021, July 19). Foundation Started by Cancer Survivor Supports Local, Independent Music. Retrieved August 05, 2021, from https://spectrumnews1.com/oh/columbus/news/2021/07/15/foundation-supporting-local--independent-music-