Cancer Robs Dan Ellis of His Greatest Gift
By Space Coast Daily // April 21, 2014
singer's vocal chords and tongue removed
In the newly-released CD by local entertainer Danny Ellis and his wife, classically trained pianist Suzanah Free, the last song is a “What a Wonderful World,” the lovely tune made bittersweet by the fact that it will be the last song Ellis will ever be able to sing.
Cancer, never known for sympathetic behavior, has been especially brutal for Ellis. In January, it robbed him of his greatest gift after Ellis underwent surgery at Florida Hospital to remove his vocal chords and tongue in an effort to stave off Stage 4 laryngeal cancer.
Before he went forever silent, the singer talked about his plight and his hopes for the future.
10 YEAR CANCER BATTLE
A popular entertainer around Central Florida, the 54-year-old Ellis, known professionally as Danny Blues or Kokopeli Dan, has been battling cancer since 2004, when Ellis had just returned to Cape Canaveral from a cruise that had netted him top prize in a singing competition only to learn he was suffering from laryngeal cancer.
“I had a sore throat and I had trouble swallowing,” said Ellis.
Testing revealed cancer in the larynx. Thirty-seven treatments of radiation and chemotherapy seemed to abate the cancer beast until September of 2007, when Ellis again had problems. “They took out the lymph nodes from the ear to the chin and to be on the safe side, they also took out part of my tongue,” said Ellis.
Testing revealed cancer in the larynx. Thirty-seven treatments of radiation and chemotherapy seemed to abate the cancer beast until September of 2007, when Ellis again had problems.
“My tongue was sore, but my doc didn’t see anything really wrong,” said Ellis.
“He thought it was just an inflamed lymph node and the tissue samples had come back negative.”
The area became sore; another biopsy came back positive. Cancer had returned, this time on the side of Ellis’ tongue.
“They took out the lymph nodes from the ear to the chin and to be on the safe side, they also took out part of my tongue,” said Ellis.
CANCER REACHES STAGE 4 LEVEL
The operation did not affect Ellis’ singing and life settled back to normal for Danny as he continued his round of gigs at area venues such as the Cape Canaveral and Melbourne Yacht Clubs.
In September of 2012, just around the time of the fifth anniversary – considered the benchmark for predicting a cancer-free future – Ellis got another heavy dose of bad news.
“They say that if you make it to your fifth anniversary, you’re okay,” said Ellis, who again started having sore throats around that time. “The docs originally thought it was allergies, but it didn’t quite go away with antibiotics.”
In fact, the sore throat got worse, despite the arsenal of antibiotics Ellis’ physician kept throwing at it.
The sore throat got worse, despite the arsenal of antibiotics Ellis’ physician kept throwing at it. In May of last year, a CT Scan discovered a little spot on Ellis’ mouth. Cancer had reached Stage 4 level. “They gave me six months to a year if I didn’t do anything,” he said.
In May of last year, a CT Scan discovered a little spot on Ellis’ mouth. Cancer had reached Stage 4 level.
“They gave me six months to a year if I didn’t do anything,” he said.
“I was told I needed surgery ASAP. Radiation was not an option, because I’d almost had the maximum dose already, and giving the recommended dose this time would have put me over the limit.”
THE REAL DEAL
Ellis agonized for weeks over what to do. The devastating diagnosis arrived the day after he had released his CD, a lifelong dream.
“Singing is my love,” he said.
He had waited his entire life for the dream to become a reality. After a 20-year career in the United States Air Force as an aircraft mechanic and computer programmer, Ellis had earned his living as maintenance and security manager at Super Flea and Farmers Market in Florida.
He also created and traded Native American art and currently runs Computer Care Clinic, a computer and electronics repair shop in Merritt Island.
On weekends, he and Suzanne transformed into SRAZZ. The couple was a popular act, performing throughout the United State almost every weekend and sometimes three out of seven days of the week. Ellis even opened for the Charlie Daniels Band.
His CD, “Danny Blues,” was produced by Nashville’s Tony Smith, who has worked with the likes of Lee Greenwood and Dolly Parton. Ellis stacks up well against some of the best, say his many fans.
“I’ve recorded with many great blues artists, but none like Danny,” said Eirinn Abu, a professional saxophone player and national recording artist who is featured in Ellis’ CD. “He is the real deal.”
ARTIFICIAL VOICE BOX
Amidst the despair, Ellis found a shiny moment back in September, when Community Based Care of Central Florida, a nonprofit that helps abused and abandoned children in foster care, invited Ellis to perform four songs during their “Dance, Dream, Inspire” fundraiser at Hard Rock Café in Orlando.
Deep in his heart, Ellis still holds hope the Jan. 15 operation may not be the end of his singing career and that he may not have to lose his tongue.
He knows it will be a tremendous challenge, but he would like to be the first blues singer with an artificial voice box to release an album. At the moment, however, keeping his life is top priority.
“Even with the operation, the doctors gave me a 30 percent chance that they could save me for five more years,” he said.
Looking back, he tries to find a reason why fate dealt him such a harsh blow. Both his parents were smokers and Ellis smoked cigars for 10 years.
“The problem could have been that I tended to chew on the cigars,” he said.
An artificial voice box would give him back some of his voice, but losing his tongue would end all possibility of ever talking, much less singing. Eating would be out of the question, and Ellis would have to receive his nutrition through a stomach tube.
His voice may be gone, but Ellis’ music remains in the “Danny Blues” CD. “I’m hoping people will hear my story and listen to my music and appreciate it,” he said.
“Danny Blues” is available on amazon.com, iTunes and most music websites, as well as at Computer Care Clinic, 126 Merritt Island Causeway, Merritt Island. The CD can also be downloaded at Ellis’ website, SrazzBand.com