Finding a New Voice

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By the age of 37, I felt I had accomplished so much. I lived a very busy, happy, and successful life full of significant and joyful moments in my personal and professional life. I fell in love with music when I was a child. Mum and I would dance around the house learning my songs for school from the age of 4-16 then I went on to graduate with a masters at the Royal College of Music. Putting in my 10,000 hours and copious amounts of hard work I went on to win awards and grants. Becoming a successful soprano vocalist, I chose to bring my love of classical, film and pop music together. I became the first-ever artist to sign a £1million contract with Sony Classical and recorded an album with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Abbey Road studios. My confidence as a young woman grew everyday as my professional career was reaching new heights. Even the Potters Bar train crash (UK) in May of 2002 that I happened to be in couldn’t derail me. This tragedy actually inspired me to cover Sting’s well-known song Fragile on the SUMMER album. With the success of the SUMMER album reaching #1 iTunes charts in the US and #2 in the UK classical charts I toured all over the world, sharing stages with the likes of Michael Bolton, Chris Botti, Paul Potts, Nick Cannon and David Foster. I have performed for celebrities and royalty all over the world, from Buckingham Palace, Europe, Jordan, Dubai, to a 1.3 billion tv audience in China. 

It seemed to me that nothing in the world could take away my zest for life, and the success of my career. It was however back in the year 2014 when I first learned that I had stage 4 breast cancer. Life as I knew it came to a halt. Cancer threatened everything I had achieved in my life – everything I stood for as a human being. Cancer was my second lesson in the understanding of the fragility of life. I had a month to decide how I should proceed before cancer would have gone into my lymph nodes. Imagine me:  living in California, by the beach, a yogi who loved plant-based food, a person who had never been to hospital before, never having experienced the slightest symptoms of flu, not even a filling, no one in my family having ever had cancer.  Then be told that I have stage 4 breast cancer? I was in disbelief! My world as I knew it was shattered. Summer as I knew her would burn to ashes, and it was my responsibility to rise again and become the warrior I am today and use this experience as fuel to thrive and live my best life. 

The journey started in a complete state of shock and denial. Hearing all the opinions from doctors and friends regarding the most appropriate treatment, and trying to understand the system of this new world I found myself in was foreign and emotionally draining. I soon realised that everyone was trying to help but in the end, it was only me who could figure out how to fight for my life. Clinging to my golden retriever at every hospital appointment, I faced the unknown.

I now see cancer as my blessing and this approach towards the devastating illness is what helped me become a stronger, more confident woman than I had ever been my entire life. What I learned from my diagnosis is that celebrating life is the key to health – every single breath of it. Life is a gift to be able to breathe in and out in the present moment. We have to create a bulletproof mindset and live in a state of gratitude. 

Every day, so many have serious traumas to face, I choose now to celebrate the joy in every second that I am alive, no matter what gets thrown at me. We all have to admit there seems to be a specific reason as to why disease comes into our bodies. Our bodies are at dis…ease… with how we are living our life. I have found that healing lies in our own minds. Through understanding why we are not at ease and finding the main reason causing any illness will heal us. What we think, feel and believe has an immense effect on our state of well being. To thrive we have to feel alive in every area of the mind, body and spirit. And whilst my entire life I was physically fit, a vocal olympic athlete, loved food, I was however, living in a constant state of fight or flight mode causing extreme distress to my body without even knowing it. 

Looking back on the most challenging chapter that I have had to face in my life, I remember my very first day of my healing journey. I woke up at 5 am and with the support of a friend, I went to the hospital where I was to sit and wait in the land of the unknown. A single mastectomy. 

The first patient to wake up on the ward, I hobbled around with a morphine drip attached. It was a whole other world! A world of medical reports, clipboards and compassion from the nurses. Friends came to visit with green juices and lovely smelling gifts like lavender and lemon oils and cashmere socks. It wasn’t until sitting in a wheelchair on my last day in the hospital waiting to go to stay at my friend’s home, I wondered how life would be. The diagnosis was one trauma and then having to face the healing process was another, to learn how to accept cancer and be at peace with it and to actively engage in the healing process was a full time job. 

I wasn’t capable of moving my right arm for about two years. The mess of the drains, the bandages, the incisions, and the worst part, my right breast completely black and a mess was overwhelming to say the least. Being an opera singer the breath is the most important part of the job. I had to deal with the fact that the reconstruction turned my physical appearance into something that was so foreign to me. Even to this day every breath I breathe I can feel the tissue expander, the breast is cold to touch, and no sensation. To then also have to accept that I was the one who had cancer, but I knew no-one else who had ever had it.

If I could have given myself advice back then, it would be that it is crucial to take time in actively seeking a plan with good people around you without feeling rushed. I felt at the time that I was on a speed train to death. The main forces that helped me recover, keep my sanity, and get back up were laughter, music, my golden retriever Marleigh and the love and support I received from my friends. It was a journey that I took on my own, no family, no husband – my performances for 3 years came to a halt and my vocal clients were all very understanding. 

I soon realized that music is the greatest healing power for the body. I attended sound baths to cleanse my recovering body of emotional toxins and eventually sang with all my friends who were musicians, attended breathwork classes and reiki and meditation courses. My bookshelf stocked up on every book I could get my hands on, TEDtalks and documentaries and podcasts lined up on my phone…cancer was my new job. 6 years today I can happily tell you that I have conquered cancer. 

With a bulletproof mindset, the Warrior in me emerged and a new chapter of my life would begin. 

During my successful career, before learning that I had cancer, I had always sung other people’s music. For the first time in my life, I spent 2020 writing my own songs and lyrics. My new EP Unveiled tells my own story of overcoming trauma and the importance of celebrating every single second of life. 

In life, it is extremely important to reveal one’s true self to the world and to enjoy living no matter what trials and tribulations we may face. Unveiled is just that – taking one’s mask off and showing our true core, the beauty, one’s inner light and living with our heart open. 

Let’s open up for the world to see, Unveil your world
And when your heart is open the world is unveiled
Just leave the words unspoken, love will prevail.
There is nowhere for us to hide now, we must go inward and listen to our heart and share our stories with each other for us to all prevail.
So much love goes to anyone on the journey of cancer, whether you are diagnosed or are someone supporting someone with cancer.

By Summer Watson