Skip to content

Pop musician Shawn Hook thought he may never sing again after throat cancer diagnosis

TORONTO — Shawn Hook is making his return to pop music after a tonsil cancer diagnosis threatened to silence his singing career.
Shawn Hook arrives on the red carpet at the Juno Awards in Vancouver, Sunday, March, 25, 2018. Hook is plotting his return to pop music after a throat cancer diagnosis threatened to silence his singing career. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

TORONTO — Shawn Hook is making his return to pop music after a tonsil cancer diagnosis threatened to silence his singing career.

The Juno-nominated performer — known for hits that include "Sound of Your Heart" and the Vanessa Hudgens duet "Reminding Me" — says his life and career were put on hold in January 2023 when he learned a lump on his neck was cancerous.

"The initial shock was crazy, unexpected, but I quickly went to: 'OK, what do I do now? And let's do it,'" the 39-year-old explained in a phone call from Los Angeles.

Hook underwent chemotherapy and radiation after surgery to remove five tumours last year. The process meant he could not speak properly for some time which presented the possibility that he might never be able to perform again.

"I mentally had to, kind of, be OK with not being able to sing — and that was hard," said the Nelson, B.C. native.

"I didn't want to lose my voice."

Getting his vocal cords back in shape involved extensive training with a speech pathologist through BC Cancer, the province's cancer care agency.

It also took patience on his part, he said. At first, he found treatment and therapy left him feeling creatively uninspired.

"I needed to dissociate from my music career, and find out who I was as a person," he added.

"So much of my life has been about the next song, the next show, the next album ... it took me a minute to get back into that."

Once his voice strengthened, he said he sat back at the piano.

"I started finding inspiration again, and then I started writing again," he added.

"It happened organically."

Hook said the surgery changed his voice in subtle ways. His tone is now "more rich and less airy" than before, while his vocal stamina peaks after about an hour of singing, when he starts to feel fatigued.

"I'm still working on getting up to full speed," he said.

Hook shared his experience as part of the Canadian Cancer Society's Daffodil Month campaign to raise funds and awareness for the organization, which helps people who face cancer.

He acknowledged some uncertainty remains about his cancer treatment. He'll learn more about where things stand in May.

"Knock on wood that things are clear," he added. "But they don't talk about cure until year five."

Meanwhile, the singer-songwriter, born Shawn Hlookoff, is plotting his first album since his health struggles. He released the song "Bigger Than the Night," a tribute to his fiancée, on streaming services earlier this year.

His next step is a second track titled "Magic" in May, leading to an EP in the summer, which includes the song "Pick You Up," which he wrote as he reflected on his cancer experience.

"It's a song about everybody who was there for me during my treatment," he said.

"Hopefully, people going through something really hard can resonate with it, and that it brings hope and light to them, as those people brought to me."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2024.

David Friend, The Canadian Press