For Dan Hill the Choice Was Obvious

(Graham Rockingham, The Hamilton Spectator)

Dan Hill’s phone rang 10 minutes before he was to go on stage. It was a doctor, informing him he had prostate cancer.

“The urologist called me at 10-to-8 on Oct. 11, 2011 in Cambridge, Ontario,” the Grammy winning Toronto singer-songwriter says. “You know you’re in trouble when your urologist calls you on your cellphone on a Saturday night. You know it’s bad. I had just had a biopsy. He got back to me within 72 hours of it.”

A decision had to be made quickly on whether he would undergo surgery.

“I said, ‘Fine I want this thing out of my body. Give me the surgery.’

“Then he says, ‘If you get the surgery, you’ll never sing again.’

“I said, ‘Fine, I’ll never sing again. I choose life.’

“I marched on stage and sang like I would never sing again.”

It’s a story, Hill has been telling a lot lately, mostly at benefit shows to raise funds for cancer research, like he’ll be doing with hockey great Paul Henderson Tuesday night at the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel.

Hill, 59, and Henderson, 72, are both cancer survivors (Henderson was diagnosed with a form of leukemia several years ago).

Hill had his prostate removed, and, despite the doctor’s warning, rebounded from the surgery without losing his ability to sing. Without going into details, the inability to sing following prostate surgery has more to do with incontinence than vocal chords. Hill, however, can still hit those high C notes without embarrassment.

“You have to learn to retrain your body,” explains Hill, an avid long-distance runner since his teens. “One of the reasons I was able to, is because I was in good shape from running 10 miles a day. My body was strong and easily trainable.”

Hill, best known for his international ’70s hit, Sometimes When We Touch, intends to sing some songs as well as talk at Tuesday’s fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society, including a new one, The Slightest Difference, which he wrote during his cancer battle.

Hill now calls himself “a lucky guy,” but he’s grateful for his lifesaving surgery and is aware that advances in cancer treatment can only come with money.

“The cures are getting better all the time,” Hill says. “Unfortunately the way it works in this world, is that a lot of research money comes from donations. One of the things I did is bequeath a large part of my will to the cancer society.

“What I ask of people coming to this event, is for things to get even better, we have to give money. It saves lives.”