I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February this year – it came as a huge shock.
I’d just turned 25, had recently finished recording an album with my band Ishmael Ensemble and was starting work on my solo record.
When they told me I basically had a panic attack. I was convinced they’d made a mistake and swapped my petri dish accidentally.
I’ve never said the words ‘I have cancer’ because I don’t identify as a person with a disease. Words are really important, and mantras can be hugely impactful.
If you work on loving yourself and say to yourself ‘I’m amazing’ everyday then that becomes who you are.
Cancer is never something that I wanted or identified with, it’s an external thing which grew inside me, so I only ever said I’ve been ‘diagnosed’ with cancer to cement that distance.
I’ve had to work hard to make my experience as positive as possible – even dressing up in glitter and my shiniest clothes to go in for chemo.
I have been calling my healing process my ‘dragon transformation,’ as although I have always had strength, the courage that I have developed in the face of my diagnosis is making me even fiercer.
I find all the imagery associated with dragons really powerful, and I love the idea of a fire growing inside me, sprouting wings and being fierce.
I want to change people’s perception of cancer and disease. Yes, it can be scary and challenging, but it’s also been the making of me.
Before I found out I took fitness and health really seriously but found it difficult to appreciate my body. Then when I began chemo my body started to change, my hair fell out and I couldn’t work out anymore.
It made me appreciate who I am on the inside so much more, and realise how amazing and beautiful my body is. Being able to cope with this treatment and shrink a tumour, I know my body has had to go through something so huge and I feel really proud of it.
A year ago, I was someone who may have seemed confident on the outside, but on the inside my self-doubt was eating away at me.
My diagnosis has totally, wholeheartedly, changed how I feel about myself.
As an artist and musician, I used to base all of my worth on what I created, which was a really unhealthy outlook as I put myself under so much pressure. I went through periods of not being able to create anything as I was scared it wouldn’t be good enough. I was sabotaging myself.
Having to face cancer made me realise that I’m more than my art; I’m a fun loving, free spirited, human being. But that being said, I’m so lucky to have had art and music in my life during treatment.
Being able to perform and express myself is so cathartic, it means so much to stand there on stage singing out with my bald head proud of my healing process.
A couple of weeks ago I got the all-clear, which was incredible.
As my tumour was on the larger side I’m going to have radiotherapy every day for four weeks starting soon, and I’m also in discussion about having a double mastectomy and reconstruction – I don’t know what I’m going to do about that yet but I will listen to my body and make the right decision.
Two days after getting the all-clear I was back in the studio recording an exciting record with my band.
I’ve worked so hard to love myself throughout this process, whatever state I’m in or whatever I’m able to do.
Now, with a lot of emotional work behind me I am much more in touch with myself and ready to continue the process of working on my solo album. I’m feeling so elated about life because I really believe anything is possible.
Holly stars in Teenage Cancer Trust’s new #StillMe campaign, which is shining a light on the impact that cancer and treatment can have on young people’s body image, confidence, and self-esteem.