Ruby Walvin in her bedroom

I felt like cancer had taken away my identity



Songwriter and performer Ruby was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2019. During treatment, her Youth Support Coordinator Lois helped her rediscover her passion for music and reclaim her identity.

Me, before cancer

Before I was diagnosed, my first year at university in Liverpool was going really well and I was having a brilliant time studying songwriting and performance. I had a great group of friends, loved the city and was enjoying being an independent 19-year-old.

I began to feel quite fatigued, but I initially thought I was just run down from student life. I was that pale I was almost see through, I was extremely breathless, and I began to have pains at the bottom of my leg like shin splints.

It went on for three months until I was walking home after a friend’s gig and I collapsed. I was eventually sent to A&E where they told me that they thought I had cancer. I was given a bone marrow biopsy which confirmed I had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

I knew I’d need my family around me during treatment, so I decided to go back to my hometown. I was transferred to the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Leicester Royal Infirmary the same day I was diagnosed.

When we arrived, the staff offered my mum tea and toast. It was so nice that they were there as being welcomed in such a friendly way made things easier. My mum was able to stay overnight on the unit with me, too – it was a very traumatic time, so that was a massive thing.

Lois, Teenage Cancer Trust’s Youth Support Coordinator, was fantastic. I developed a really good relationship with her, and chatted to her a lot. She was always there when I needed to talk, but she also introduced me to other patients so I could talk to people my age who were going through a similar experience.

I didn’t sing for eight months after my treatment started as I felt too ill, and it was mentally painful.

How Lois kept me going

The maintenance stage of my treatment was meant to be easier as you have lower doses of chemo, but I developed septic arthritis in my shoulder. I needed an operation, which took place in January 2020, and I couldn’t play the guitar for a while afterwards.

It made me feel like I wasn’t a musician anymore and that cancer had taken that from me.

Because Lois got to know me personally and knew about my passion for music, she encouraged me to keep going. She knew it would help to bring my focus back to something I enjoyed.

Ruby Walvin with her mum while on treatment

Lois had listened to my songs and told me how good I am. She shared my music with the nurses, and I felt like they were all rooting for me to start writing again. That boosted my confidence and gave me encouragement.

Not being able to play guitar after my operation was gutting – it wasn’t really until the lockdown started that I finally picked it up properly and was able to play again.

It was a bittersweet moment – I hadn’t played or sung for months – and I was worried that I wouldn’t be any good anymore. But it was an amazing feeling and made me realise how far I’d come.

During treatment I’d jotted down lyrics here and there about what was happening to me. As I had to shield at home during the pandemic, I had more time on my hands, and I started to put them together to music.

Because I was treated on a Teenage Cancer Trust unit, I met and made friends with lots of other young people with cancer, and not all of them survived, which was really hard. Writing about them helps keep their personality alive.

Ruby with her guitar

I’m now a year out of treatment and I’m so happy to be back doing the things I love, studying, songwriting and gigging. There’s not one day I take for granted, and I feel extremely grateful to have my health and independence again. I now have three songs released and I’m focusing on my career in music.

Even being out of treatment, Teenage Cancer Trust is still there if I ever need support, and I feel very lucky to be involved in their events and campaigns – being able to give back to a charity that does such vital, amazing work.

Songwriter and performer Ruby Walvin.

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