“You have bone cancer – chondrosarcoma.” Those words have been with me every day since. Until that point in my life I had been going through my usual daily motions. I had noticed little signs like my right eye appearing bigger than the left, frequent headaches, but nothing that caused me reason to worry about my health.
The journey from those words, over 10 years ago to now, is one that has seen me reach the depths of despair before rebuilding my life into something that has a meaning again.
I was a young man when I received the news of a cancerous tumour in my upper palate. The surgeons informed me that they would need to remove my teeth, my gums and the roof of my mouth to eradicate the cancer. As a musician and singer, my image is a large part of who I am. The medical team told me that the surgery would be complicated and my face would never look the same again. I would need to slowly rebuild my strength and undergo physiotherapy and speech therapy before being able to walk, or possibly speak again. They told me my speech ‘may’ eventually be understandable again. This looked like the end of my singing career.
I had so much that I wanted to share with the world, songs of love, life, joy and pain that I held in the most sacred places in my heart. Although my music was hugely important to me, there was a bigger inner battle simmering in background beyond my recovery from surgery. My life was about to spiral even further out of control.
As the doctors told me what to expect in the future, I kind of switched off. To access the tumour, they would have to lift off half of my face. I was petrified, but at the same time felt it was happening to someone else. I just couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. I refused to see a future where I couldn’t speak and be heard, where I couldn’t share my emotions through my music and where I looked different to… me.
I recall the nurse holding my hand as the anaesthetic took effect. I fought so hard against going under and I gripped her hand tightly. I didn’t want this to be real. I wanted to turn the clock back and somehow find another way. Would I wake up from this nightmare alive? If I did, could anyone look at me? Could I still be loved?
It was a ground breaking 21 hour operation. The skill and dedication of the 15 surgeons involved astounds me even to this day. They removed my teeth, gums and the roof of my mouth before attacking the tumour. They reconstructed my mouth with skin and bone from my leg. I had a stomach peg inserted so I could take in liquid foods and fluids, with a tracheostomy to allow me to breathe. Needless to say I was kept away from mirrors, but I can imagine I looked like I’d been hit by several busses.
As I slowly became aware of my surroundings, I was frightened beyond belief. I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak and was unable to express myself. My closest friend Jonathan was allowed in to see me. He held my hand and his voice made me feel so happy to be alive. My face was extremely swollen and I was plumbed in to drips, tubes and a constant supply of morphine. Visitors tried to conceal their shock but the horror in their eyes said it all.
The road to recovery was a long one. At first, I was able to move a little. This progressed to moving to the chair next to my bed. Eventually, through the use of crutches, I was able to walk again. I felt stronger. But at the back of my mind was the nagging thought that I was never going to look or feel the same again. These dark thoughts wouldn’t go away, no matter how much I celebrated the small successes.
My attention turned from my health to my appearance and my career. Could I ever look normal again? Would I be able to talk? Sing? With so much time to myself, the darkness of my thoughts ate me away over the months that turned into years. As the darker thoughts kept on resurfacing I knew that had to fight this myself.
In this time my traumatic experiences, buried from childhood, demanded my attention. With a grotesquely swollen face, no teeth and still in crutches, I decided to train to be a psychotherapist and I explored my traumatic experiences in my own psychotherapy. This eventually pushed me over the edge and into a breakdown. It was 2am and I needed immediate help.
I could feel myself fragmenting. A terror arose within me and my skin felt raw and exposed. I was absolutely petrified and wanted to be out of this state of living hell. I was at the point where I knew I still had some control and I took myself to A&E and asked that they admit me to a psychiatric hospital. I told them that I was suicidal. They told me that a psychiatric hospital is not a nice place to be, advised me to go to the GP in the morning and sent me home. When I arrived home, I attempted suicide and was then hospitalised.
Over the coming weeks and months, I felt a new sense of self emerging within me. I was feeling more grounded, the old traumas and daily fears no longer had a grip on me and it felt like a new chapter it my life wanted to emerge. I was experiencing a deep and seismic shift, a transformation.
My traumatic experiences had given me a new perspective on life and I wanted to make a album sharing the emotional story of the human spirit; its strengths and ability to create anew. A celebration of the richness of life and how we can so positively impact our fellow human beings. Of what we can achieve in relationship with each other. I received such great love and care that I wanted to share this in my story, through my album The Journey Home.
Over the next few years I grew in many ways. My old friend Bonnie Tyler connected me with celebrity voice coach James Windsor who grew my voice, confidence and sense of humour again. We broke into fits of laughter when I reminded him, during one of our breakthrough sessions, that it really was my leg that he was working with – due to the way my mouth was reconstructed.
When I told my surgeon that I was recording an album I could feel the depth of emotion in our embrace. I am tithing 10% of my own personal share of profits from this album to Guys and St. Thomas’ hospital who cared for me and saved my life. The 15 surgeons involved in my surgery, the speech therapist, physiotherapist, dietician, nurses, all were without doubt fantastic.
My soul has known the darkest of nights and my wish is to bring the light at the end of the tunnel is within reach. Let’s journey together, embracing the love in life and the connected spirit that bring us all alive.
Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you’ve got something extraordinary to share please email email@example.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.