Glenwood Springs resident Chip Winn Wells went off-script 16 years ago. After 20 years working as a teacher in the Roaring Fork School district she says she had a “What are you waiting for?” moment and took an early retirement to pursue her lifelong dream of performing theater and film full-time.
She’s enjoyed plenty of roles on the regional stage and in commercials since changing the course of her career, when an unexpected cancer diagnosis took center stage in her life. Chip had squamous cell carcinoma on the side of her tongue that had spread back and down into her throat, and underwent extensive surgery to remove the tumor. That fight didn’t end there — though she was performing in and producing Les Miserables with Defiance Community Players, she began to undergo six weeks of radiation therapy, which includes daily visits to the Valley View Cancer Center.
“Six weeks is a long time — I just said to myself, ‘Okay, this is my job for the next six weeks,’” Chip now says.
Of course, the throat and vocal chords are a key part of any performer’s life, and that was something that wasn’t overlooked in her treatment. “The surgeon and radiology team understood the need to keep my vocal ability in tact,” Chip says. In addition, she found that Dr. Green’s nurse, Lisa Russo, was willing to sing duets and harmonize with her, to make sure her vocal ability stayed at a level where she could still sing and project her voice in front of an audience. “I am eternally grateful to Lisa for offering her talents as a compassionate person and also as a fellow vocalist; she really understands how much it all means to me,” Chip says.
Chip was dismissed from radiation in November of 2014, and still goes to Valley View for regular checkups. And now and then during a performance she sees some of the people who provided her with care when she needed it the most, and feels the support come full circle.
“It meant an awful lot to me because they have gotten to see the fruits of their labors with my voice, and there I was doing what I love to do, made possible because they do what they love to do,” she says. “Wouldn’t this be a better world if everyone got to do what they loved, and it worked toward a positive end?”