When the doctor called me and told me I had cancer, I didn’t cry — instead, my first thought was how I was going to break it to my mom. Of course I was scared, but I knew I had a good prognosis, and I was sure that a few months of treatment wouldn’t get in the way of releasing the EP that I’d been moving toward for years. But when I learned about the details of the surgery that I needed to save my life, things changed; the doctor told me that during the procedure, the surgeon may need to sever my laryngeal nerves. In other words, I may never be able to sing again. It was the worst possible news I could imagine.
A few weeks later, I woke up on a stretcher, staring at the tiled hospital ceiling, and hummed a broken E-major scale. It sounded awful, but I found some peace knowing I could at least match pitch.
After my surgery, I could barely speak for weeks. As my voice regained a little strength, I would forgetfully sing along to a jingle on TV or a song stuck in my head and be shocked at what came out of my mouth. My doctors explained to me that I wouldn’t know for months if my voice would ever fully recover. In fact, my surgeon said that he could guarantee that “it will never be the same.” Adding insult to injury, complications from my treatment lead to pain and weakness in my muscles to the point where I couldn’t even pick out a melody on my guitar.
Devastated, I decided to find something related to music that my physical ability would still allow me to do — with encouragement from a friend, I downloaded an illegal copy of Ableton and resolved that I was finally going to teach myself how to produce. At the very least, I could sketch out chord progressions and timbres for future songs.
Hundreds of hours of YouTube tutorials later, I was onto something better than I’d ever made before. I wasn’t just producing; I was actually starting to write full songs, even without much of a voice to speak of. They weren’t about cancer. They weren’t about whether or not I’d be able to walk again. They weren’t even about seeing the pain and suffering on my parents’ faces. They were about my life a year earlier — about being nineteen. About meeting someone who opened up a whole new future in my imagination. About dancing with a boy I barely knew.
I wrote “Dancing to You” from a distance. While my friends were out partying, falling in love (and getting their hearts broken), I was in and out of a hospital bed, waiting for blood tests to come back. More than the fear and the pain of being so sick, it was the sense of having lost time — precious, irrecoverable time — that was so tragic to me. I knew I would never get twenty back. And yet, when I was writing this song, the chorus came to me so quickly it was almost surreal. It was as if it had been waiting inside me, a part of me deep down that was still young and full of energy and joy and possibility.
After that, songs were pouring out of me — songs better than anything I’d ever written before. They were full of excitement and hope, anxiety and overthinking, and everything else I’d lived so fully in the years leading up to my illness. By writing these songs, I was able to access that life from an emotional place that seemed impossibly far away. Even more importantly, I was able to access a future that seemed incredibly distant.
Today, my voice is better than ever, and I’m starting to write about that chapter of my life. In the songs I’m working on today, I’m exploring how that heaviness permeated my relationships and my outlook, and what it meant to see my future as a maybe. But in the meantime, I have a collection of songs that represent the preciousness of being young, alive, and ready to make mistakes. I treasure them, and I hope you will, too.
Soundtrack Of Your Life
New York, NY
Lydia Halloway is a New York-based pop artist, preparing to release her debut EP, ‘Never Meant To Hurt You’.
Favorite Record Store
Streetcorner record boxes in Brooklyn
Favorite Concert Venue
Bowery Ballroom, New York City