When I was diagnosed, I was in the worst place of my life. Two family members had died of cancer in the six months beforehand – so when I found a lump on my boob soon after and I started to freak out. I was convinced it wasn’t me – I thought they must have made a mistake and swapped my petri dish accidentally.
I thought, "I’m too young to die, I haven’t even released my first solo album yet."
I’m a musician and an artist, and before I was diagnosed I was producing so much work – I put my whole entire worth of myself on what I created. At first that was really difficult because I thought, "if I’m not creating stuff then what am I? Who am I?"
But what makes me "me" isn’t the fact that I create stuff, I make music, I make art – what makes me "me" is my spirit and my soul and my sense of humour and my feelings.
I found it really difficult looking in the mirror and seeing my hair in patches. It took me about a week to start thinking 'oh, this bald look is actually really cool, I shouldn’t be ashamed of it'. It’s a sign of healing – chemo is an amazing thing that can kill cancer cells.
I put on glitter every time I went in for chemo, which I called my "dragon transformation" – it’s like I was going through a training programme (AKA chemo) to become as strong and fearless as a dragon.
It is hard looking at yourself in the mirror and not seeing 'you' as you see yourself on the inside, but that allows you go to much deeper. I’ve worked so hard to love myself throughout this process, love myself whatever state I’m in or what I’m able to do.
I found it really difficult looking in the mirror and seeing my hair in patches
I’ve really struggled with my mental health since the end of treatment and I’ve had a lot of therapy but adjusting emotionally has been so, so, difficult and last year during lock down I was really struggling.
A turning point came when I went to one of Teenage Cancer Trust’s virtual events for young people during the lockdown where I heard a talk from Paralympian Amy Conroy.
She had her leg amputated during her cancer treatment and talked about how going through cancer at such a young age actually gives you superpowers because you’ve been through something that few other people your age have. It helped me start to think about things differently, it was a landmark in my healing.
During Covid, I was classed as particularly vulnerable so had to shield which was tough at first, but in some ways the lockdown was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to slow down. I moved in with my parents in a remote part of Scotland for six months and had the time to process things and heal.
Life post treatment is undoubtably really difficult, so this past year has been about untangling myself mentally and then focusing on what is important to me and what I need to flourish, and for me that’s making art.
You are enough just as you are. Even if you don’t want to wear glitter or colourful clothes – that’s enough too. Your identity is who you are on the inside, and that projects from the inside out.
Watch the music video for Holly’s song ‘Empty Hands’, which she wrote after finishing treatment