(photo: Before diagnosis, my professional head-shot, taken by Kate Scott Photography, January 2016)
Me? No! Really? No! Are you sure? Me! Really? No! It was as if I’d won the lottery, but not a lottery anyone wants to win. I felt like a camera crew were going to jump out from hiding places shouting;” Fooled you! Surprise! Had you going there”. But no. They didn’t. Instead I listened to the surgeon tell me that I have bowel cancer. I was 32 years old. I had just sorted out a new showreel and headshots for a new agent as a performer. Only a week before I’d had an audition for ‘Phantom of the Opera’ at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Just a few minutes earlier, I’d had a massive hug from my excited friend outside the Royal Academy of Music, Elena Skye, who was going off for her final audition for ‘Kinky Boots’ in the Westend (which she got the role of ‘Lauren’ by the way, and she was phenomenal). I remember her saying that she’d been to so many auditions and she was hoping this one would be the one to change her life for the better. She asked me where I was going, and I said, “I’m going for results on a test to find out what’s been going on inside me for the past year, and I’m hoping these results give me some answers.” (Hmm, be careful what you wish for, hey?)
(photo: Elena Skye and me, August 2016, whilst I was on chemotherapy)
As I sat in that consultancy room with my parents, we listened to the doctor say that I had bowel cancer: T3 N2 M0. He explained where the tumour was, what each number meant, what surgery he would do and how he would do it, he said a lot more stuff as well, but I can’t really remember it in great detail, to be honest. I kept thinking his serious face would suddenly burst into a cheeky massive smile – but it didn’t. I remember he said that I’d most likely have to have chemotherapy afterwards and advised who to see about that.
I remember the shock in my parents’ voices. Not their faces in that room. I couldn’t look at them. I felt so guilty and sorry for putting them through this. I still thought it was a joke! Surely, I couldn’t have bowel cancer, or any kind of cancer. The doctor said that he could do the surgery on me within 30 days. I said “Well, it’ll have to wait because I’m singing in a cabaret on 25th April, so I’d like to do that first”. Ha! My family and friends really had to convince me that getting surgery was more important than singing in a cabaret at that moment in time! That was funny. I could not think logically. I wanted to stop time and pretend this news was not real. I needed to sing. I needed to feel like me before this…whatever this was…this unknown thing would take over my life.
(photo: Me and my parents, before diagnosis, July 2015, photo by Image Thirst)
In a daze, my parents and I somehow left the office and found ourselves walking down the street. We ended up having lunch somewhere, either a pub or a tapas restaurant, I don’t know. We discussed what this all meant and the next plan of action. I don’t really remember that either.
However, I do remember saying that I had to leave for the train though because I had a singing lesson with my friend to prepare for the Cabaret I wanted to do on 25th April. My parents again said that they didn’t think I should do the cabaret, and instead I should prepare for the surgery. But I was determined that I had to go to the singing lesson as I was looking forward to seeing my friend and I wanted to sing. So, that was that. Off I went on the train and found the venue, and waited in the canteen area for my friend, SuRie (as she is now known) who would go on to sing at Eurovision 3 times, third time representing the United Kingdom in 2018.
[photo: Me and SuRie after my 2nd surgery in September 2017)
SuRie was lovely as always. I followed as she chatted to me, walking in to a room with a high-ceiling as she sat down at the piano. I was still in denial but suddenly, before I was about to start singing, I felt that I could possibly break down at any second and I didn’t want to throw that at her without her knowing why I would be crying. So, I told her “I’m really sorry if I start crying by the way. I’ve just been told I have bowel cancer.” Blunt and straight to the point. She was obviously shocked but kept her composure because she could tell it’s what I needed, and funnily enough, singing in that lesson was so freeing! And I didn’t cry! Instead my voice just flowed and it felt so cathartic to just surrender to the songs, even for a short while and leave the new bad news outside for a while. I think that’s why music and singing has always been so important for me, especially even more so, through every step of these last 3 years. That very first day of diagnosis showed me the power of song and how healing it is at easing pain and letting emotions flow. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone! Sing, sing, sing!
The next week was a blur of craziness and telling family and friends about my diagnosis. As it turns out, I was convinced to forgo the Cabaret, which I had titled (ironically) ‘To Health & Happiness’, singing with yet another talented friend, Nic Chiappetta (who since has been on TV with his a cappella group ‘Belt Up’ and recently appeared on TV’s ‘All Together Now’). I remember being so sad that I would not be there to sing with him. As it turns out, I would still be in hospital recovering from my first surgery which removed the 4/5cm tumour plus 84 lymph nodes (49 of which were cancerous).
(photo: My RAM fam, from left to right: Lara de Belder ( part of Belt Up), SuRie, Nic Chiappetta (part of Belt Up), Luka Antony, Me, Elena Skye – March 2018)
Today, as I reflect on my time these last 3 years since being told my diagnosis of bowel cancer, there is a lot to take in. I face today with mixed emotions, but generally a positive one. As SuRie says it’s as if she wants to say “‘Happy Anniversary’ but it’s not exactly one you want to celebrate, but definitely one to reflect on”. And as much as there are obvious lows, there are so many wonderful highs I am grateful for too! As I near the end of this blog, I realise how much I have loved the power of music and song, strength and love, family and friendship, of never giving up on dreams, and that the future is unwritten. To anyone reading this who may be reflecting on their own ‘anniversary’ of sorts, or in the process of beginning a ‘first’, remember that ‘this too shall pass’. You have the power within you to decide how you proceed and how you choose to be. Find moments that inspire you, surround yourself with love. And always…always…always…make time for music!
On that note, I am putting on two fundraising concerts, ‘Living With Gratitude’ in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire on Sunday 28th April 2019, in support of Bowel Cancer UK. I will be singing with other professional friends to raise awareness and raise the roof!
Details on poster below for tickets and/or donation page.