Soul Asylum co-founder’s wife on a mission to fight cancer

Kill Kancer founder Mary Beth Mueller

The World Cancer Report predicts that cancer will grow by 57 percent over the next 20 years, rising from 14 million diagnoses per year to 22 million.

As the leading cause of death in Minnesota, it’s a disease known in most households and, even when victims survive, it’s costly and painful. Minneapolitan Mary Beth Mueller lost her husband to the disease, and now she’s fighting back with Kill Kancer.

Kill Kancer is a far reaching organization aimed at cancer awareness and prevention, but its roots are as direct and personal as it gets. Founded by Mueller, Kill Kancer’s origins began with a benefit concert for her late husband, Karl Mueller, the bassist and co-founder of Grammy-winning rock band Soul Asylum.

It was a 2004 concert at The Quest when stars like Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould and Grant Hart, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Golden Smog, Gear Daddies, and Soul Asylum played on Karl’s behalf. “Karl actually played his own benefit,” Mary Beth said.

He took the stage during a period of remission. While it was a happy day, his cancer returned quickly and Karl passed away in 2005.

With benefit money raised, Mary Beth started The Karl Fund, a research endowment at the University of Minnesota to help find treatments for the esophageal cancer that took Karl’s life. “His surgeries were gruesome,” she says.

The organization stresses prevention as a key way to avoid cancer.

“I don’t know how many billions of dollars have been thrown at this disease,” she said. “But we know how to stay healthy.”

The organization focuses on targeting youth to encourage them to eat better, do preventative screenings, avoid smoking, stay active and wear sunscreen. Kill Kancer’s board of directors features local leaders in advertising, medicine and the arts.

“I’m living differently because I know what cancer can do,” she said.

She said the organization is focused on spreading the word about cancer prevention at music festivals, rock clubs, coffee shops and bike shops, among other places with provocative and eye-catching posters. It also provides seed packets and fresh produce to people living in low-income areas that lack access to healthy foods.

“When I attend all those festivals, it is astounding the number of people that want to talk about [cancer],” Mary Beth said. “Everyone has had an aunt or a father that has died in that age group we’re targeting. My husband died at 40. That is absolutely unacceptable. His disease was lifestyle related. There’s no way you can say it any other way.”

Watching her husband undergo an esophagectomy, a laryngectomy, and additional treatments, while also taking over a year off work herself to take care of him is an experience she hates to see repeated in other households.

“You can’t just tell someone what to do, you need to involve them.”


For more information about Kill Kancer and upcoming events, go to