Singer Larry Smith recounts his battle with throat cancer

A throat cancer diagnosis was almost like a death sentence to Larry Smith.

“Being a professional singer, nothing hits harder than that,” he said.

But Smith was able to triumph over his cancer, and he now has a desire to give back. He’s giving to the Relay For Life of the Woodburn Area by performing with his Led Zeppelin tribute band, Valhalla, at 8:30 p.m. Friday. This will be his second performance at Relay.

“It’s moving seeing the survivors,” he said. “Being part of it, I feel very honored.”

by: SUBMITTED - Larry Smith performs with his band Valhalla at a recent concert. The band will perform at the Relay For Life of the Woodburn Area this Friday at 8:30 p.m.The Monitor resident has been a musician since he was 14, once coming close to signing with Geffen Records (which has recorded for such artists as Aerosmith, The Eagles and Cher), and performing lead vocals for different bands.

But all that was threatened when he was given the cancer diagnosis in January 2010.

“I don’t know what it was, but I decided that I wasn’t going to allow cancer to control me,” he said. “So I started to gather information, to learn about the enemy.”

In hopes of besting his cancer, Smith studied the work of Dr. Zhi Gang Sha.

“The premise is that through chanting one can access healing properties in one’s own mind,” Smith explained.

Before going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Smith took an already planned trip to Hawaii, where he met healers, went through acupuncture treatments and experienced an amazing connection with wildlife while snorkeling.

“I felt something rub against my leg I turned and a dolphin had come up to me and touched me and then looked me in the eye and swam circles around me,” Smith said. “As I ascended to the surface, he then splashed through the water and followed me down again and took off back to the surface. All the snorkelers at the surface were amazed at what they had seen. The hair on my arms may never go down. (My healer) said ... dolphins have an amazing ability to heal.”

Returning home with a positive outlook, Smith went through 35 radiation and three chemotherapy treatments, which he said was the scariest thing he’s ever had to go through.

“I’ve gone swimming with sharks and I’ve jumped out of airplanes, and this was the most terrifying thing I’d had to do in my life,” Smith said. “They’re wonderful people at OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University). They were my guardian angels.”

Fortunately, his chemo treatments had little side effects on him — he didn’t lose his hair and he didn’t get sick once. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a painful time: Smith had to eat through a feeding tube since he couldn’t swallow for seven to nine weeks. That’s how he was able to start a healthier diet, since he didn’t have the ability to taste. Even after the treatment was over and he was allowed to swallow again, he couldn’t enjoy most food.

“It took me a year to get the taste for spice to come back,” he said. “Even ketchup would taste spicy to me.”

Smith said once his cancer was cured, he jumped at the chance to take voice lessons post-treatment.

“I think I’m a better singer now than before cancer,” he admitted. “Now I have a four-octave range.”

But he’s humbled by that fact.

“I’m so blessed I can still sing,” he said. “Every note out of my mouth is a gift. I’m absolutely giddy when I sing.”

He said he is thrilled to be playing at Relay, where people of all ages can appreciate the music he and his band will perform.

“It stands the test of time,” he said. “It just makes me so happy to do that. I have a lot of empathy for what other people are going through. I never had any idea so many people have been affected by cancer.”

But, in many ways, Smith is glad for his experiences with the disease because he’s learned valuable lessons.

“I feel like I owe it to the world to give back,” he said. “I see things clearly, that mortality is a reality, that every day is special, everything you do is special. I feel like a marine who hit the beach; I battled this thing and I won.”

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