Chapel Hill, N.C. — Blues singer Bill McCulloch, known as Windy City Slim, never dreamed he would return to the stage after cancer treatments left him without a voice.
In December 2011, McCulloch found a lump on the side of his face, which turned out to be cancer that started at the base of his tongue.
He started a rigorous course of chemotherapy and radiation to target the tumor, but the side effects were rough.
"I was emaciated, weak – I was a wreck," McCulloch said. "I'd been a young 70 and suddenly, I was an old man."
Worst of all, he lost his voice.
Dr. Robert Buckmire, otolaryngologist at UNC Hospital, said the treatments got rid of the tumor, but caused McCulloch's vocal muscles to atrophy. His vocal folds weren't closing completely.
"In fact, they were leaking about three times the amount of air that a normal patient should leak," said Ellen Marcus, a clinical speech pathologist at UNC.
Therapy with Marcus helped McCulloch retrain his voice with an 8-week strategy to strengthen the muscles involved in speech.
"Simple vocal exercises. I do them everyday," McCulloch said.
Thanks to the therapy, Windy City Slim can sing the blues again, though he's no longer feeling blue.
"My singing voice was better than it had been even before the cancer," McCulloch said. "It's wonderful just to be able to get up and belt them out again."