Young Wheathampstead opera singer recalls battle with cancer which nearly left her unable to speak
A young opera singer has recalled her battle with cancer, which nearly left her unable to speak, as part of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Lydia Haynes, 21, of Wheathampstead, who sang at BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on September 9, said that she always wanted to be a singer.
She added: “Since I was basically able to talk I was singing; it’s been a massive part of my life. At times I thought I should get a ‘proper job’ and I’ll just sing for fun but if I did anything else I’d be lying to myself.”
But those dreams were put on hold when Lydia was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the throat, aged 16.
The former Sir John Lawes pupil said: “I had this guilt that I might have made a fuss over nothing and that people would think I was doing it for attention or that I was lying. When they said it could be cancer I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to do.”
The singer, who is now also a plus-size model, had an operation to remove the tumour on her throat which was only partially successful and left her with a large scar.
She was then transferred to the Teenage Cancer Trust ward at UCLH (University College London Hospital) where they planned to remove the remaining tumour and underwent radioactive iodine therapy in August 2012.
She went on: “The treatment makes you radioactive and it attacks the cancer cells. Because I was radioactive I had to be in isolation in a lead-lined room for a week, and no one was allowed to touch me.
“It was the first time I cried, I was begging the nurses to not make me do it. I was frightened to be alone but I knew I had to do it to live. I was tired of being strong and I broke down.”
The therapy, operation and following surgery was a success and Lydia is now four years in remission. She said: “In a way, I thank God he gave me cancer in my throat because it made me realise how important my voice is to me - singing keeps me feeling alive.
“There was a chance I would never speak again never mind sing. It was too much to think about at the time that I might not sing again but I didn’t have a choice - it was have the treatment and risk losing your voice or death.”
Lydia, who kept up her A-level studies throughout her illness and recently graduated from the University of Birmingham with a 2:1 music degree, tried to keep her cancer a secret from her lecturers, other musicians and at auditions.
She went on: “Graduating made me realise ‘I’ve done it’, I did it regardless of the cancer and I thought people could see me as strong. It was only then that I felt I could almost ‘come out’ about the cancer and use my experience to help others.”
The young singer now helps other young people with cancer through cancer charity CLIC Sargent’s music workshops, which aim to give young people with cancer the chance to work with professional musicians.
Lydia said: “I volunteer at the music workshops because I felt like I wanted to give something back and it feels great to help young people with cancer feel more confident and feel good about themselves. Just surviving cancer isn’t really living - expressing all your thoughts and feelings through music can help people through a very tough time.
“Music really helped through all the tough times, I found myself lost in it and I don’t know how I would have coped without it. I feel like I can really help and give advice to these young people who are going through what I went through which means a lot to me.”
Lydia is sharing her story as part of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and is backing CLIC Sargent’s Cancer Costs campaign to reduce the cost of cancer for young people and their families. Find out more here.