OLIVIA ROSE SMITH
I am thrilled and honoured to be sharing Olivia with you!
I came across Olivia’s Instagram almost 5 months ago via the explore page and was drawn to an image of her. She was just so beautiful, no make up, no hair, so real and raw. But there was something deeper than that, that gripped me. I can’t explain it but after visiting her profile and reading her blog I knew what it was. There was a story behind those gorgeous blue eyes and I was blown away.
When I reached out to Olivia to share her story with you, she was more than willing! I have been so inspired and uplifted by this gorgeous women, as you will be!
For someone so young, she is wise beyond her years and is the TRUE meaning of Inspiration, Courage and Strong Will.
Introducing Olivia Rose Smith.
Olivia was diagnosed with stage 2A Hodgkins Lymphoma two days before her 22nd birthday!
Olivia is now in complete remission and it has been incredible to watch her journey as she’s shared it with us over on her blog Twenty Second Year.
Can you tell us a little about yourself pre Cancer? Where were you at in your life, what were your priorities and what were you looking forward to?
Pre cancer I was your average 21 year old fashion student, I lived with my four best friends in my university accommodation in Brighton. I was with my (at the time) long term boyfriend who I was travelling home to visit almost weekly along with my best school friends and of course my family. In terms of priorities, I didn't look too far ahead, my priorities were what I was going to do that weekend, and what grade I was going to get in my uni assignments.
Can you share a little about the day you thought to visit a Dr and the time that followed in the lead up to your diagnosis?
I was having some chest pains on my holiday in Menorca when I drunk alcohol. It didn't take a lot of alcohol, just a sip and I would be in pain. Not excruciating but enough to ruin the evening. I went to the doctors after my holiday because it was such an inconvenience not being able to enjoy a night out, not because I was particularly worried about the pains I was having. The doctor wrote the pain off as anxiety and didn't mention anything about cancer, she even told me that there was no possible correlation between drinking alcohol and chest pains!
When you received your diagnosis, what feelings did you experience and did it take some time to really understand/accept that you had Cancer?
When I received my diagnosis I was heartbroken. I didn't want to cause my family any pain and I knew that it was going to be so hard for them to watch what I was about to endure. I still don't think to this day I have accepted the fact that I had cancer at 22. It wasn’t something I could ever imagine myself going through and I still feel in shock when I sit and think about it deeply.
What got you through the hardest of times and who did you lean on?
My long term boyfriend and I broke up just a month or so before I was diagnosed. But I had my mum to lean on as well as my best friends. I never felt without anyone and was always so comforted by my families support. We are an extremely strong and close family unit. I also found that the support I had through my social media was absolutely irreplaceable. I grew so close with other young girls battling cancer and that was so comforting. It was also amazing to know that through me documenting my journey I changed other peoples perspective on life and people found me such an inspiration and this gave my journey a sense of purpose.
You are now in complete remission (congratulations, honestly this is so wonderful Olivia). What has changed about you the most and what have you got your sights set on for the future?
Thank you! For me, cancer has been one long self improvement journey. From my diet and lifestyle to the way I look at life… The truth that so many people miss is that happiness doesn't start with a relationship, with a degree or with the perfect job. Happiness is realising what a precious privilege it is to be alive. Sometimes there will be sadness and struggle in our lives but we must realise the beauty, we must keep putting one foot in front of the other because you never know what’s around the bend… Make peace with your past and don't let it spoil the present. I am lucky enough to be given another chance at life. I have fallen apart and oh boy am I putting the pieces back together differently! So basically, cancer has made me realise how I want the rest of my life to be lead.. By joy!
Can you tell us a little about Cancer Chicks and what the idea was behind it?
When I was diagnosed with cancer the first thing I wanted to do was to find other young people who were going through the same thing, someone who I felt that I could relate too. I scoured the web for people who I could connect with and read content from, whether that be via a blog, a book, a documentary. But all I was faced with was terrifying content, things I didn’t want to see and people who I felt I couldn’t relate to.
Through the hundreds of young women reaching out to me via social media after the publicity of my blog and Instagram page, it became clear that young women battling cancer needed support when facing changes of their appearance. This daunting experience of cancer is often overlooked as one of the less important side effects but for many they noted it as the most daunting.
This cancer community will aim to ensure women still feel confident and stylish whilst battling cancer, as well as offer a platform to visit to ask for advice and meet other young women fighting the same fight.
Can you please share a message to those who know someone battling with cancer and any advice on how to be there?
In the first stages of my diagnosis I found it way too easy to drop into conversations that I was undergoing tests to ‘rule out’ cancer. It all seemed so absurd and out of the question anyway that I hadn't even contemplated I would end up having to deliver the news I did to all my friends and family. It was therefore my own fault that I ended up with almost everybody bombarding me with messages asking “when do you get the results?”. I told almost all my friends over WhatsApp and thank god for that because I would not have been able to do that face to face (I do not do crying).
This was the point where I realised why people are secretive about things like this. It is obviously so reassuring to know I have such a huge support network, but I began to feel like an alien. It is not until something of this nature happens to you that you learn the right way to act towards a person going through it. This is nobodies fault, I was that person two days ago. But dramatic messages of heart break from upset friends only act as reminders of whats going on. People want to be there for you, and that is so so kind, but to be so upset that I actually end up consoling them over the situation is frustrating and you leave the conversation feeling down yourself. Of course you will be saddened to hear the news, but ultimately I don't benefit from hearing of your sadness.
Uplifting and positive messages are so important and these are the people you end up running to. Highlight the positives in the situation, for example, age is on my side, or, you will come out of this a better, stronger person. Reminders that I am going to be fine, that I will beat this, that I will appreciate life so much more after all this go a lot further than messages likely to drag me down and remind me of the reality of how unfair this illness really is. Obviously it is not helpful for me to think like that, so I must look past it and focus on the positives.
Gifts are lovely, I am always grateful to receive flowers and cards. But when they arrive in the post this can be so isolating, it can make you feel as though people are trying to avoid you or are too scared to see you or they don't know how to talk about it.
This next point is so important to me, and is one of the main reasons I decided to blog about my journey. It is hard to take advice from people who don't understand what you are going through, as in, from non cancer fighters. So if you do understand and you are going through the same yourself or have done in the past, it is so important to reach out to others to give them advice and to send them supportive messages. When people fully understand your struggle, that is when you know what they are saying is completely sincere and honest.
One of the best things is when your friends act exactly as they did before you knew. In other words, the only thing that is going to make you feel better is forgetting, you need to return to normality and for people to act as usual around you, because it is so important not to let this nasty disease take anything else away from you.
1. Don't unload your sadness onto your friend with cancer - we don't benefit from hearing of your heartbreak.
2. Uplifting and positive messages are so important - highlight all the positives.
3. Try not to avoid your friend, it becomes obvious that you don't know what to say.
4. If you don't know what to say - act as you normally would. This helps to return to normality!
Can you please share a message to anyone who is currently battling cancer or who has just been diagnosed?
This could be an extremely long answer but instead I’d like to just point everybody in the direction of my instagram! The captions of my photos through my cancer journey and also my blogs at www.twentysecondyear.co.uk convey the way I feel better. One thing I will say is: When you get diagnosed with cancer the one thing people always say is “i’m so sorry to hear that” and it gets cemented in your brain that it is going to be a bad experience. Don't get me wrong, there are tough times. But actually, I feel like the positives to this experience really outweighed the negatives. It is up to you whether you choose to see the beauty in whatever life throws your way. My decision to do just that is what has allowed me to stay positive and motivated throughout my journey. I remember saying to my friends, if the results come back that I do have cancer, I am going to raise awareness and write a blog all about my experience… Not only have I made a blog, but I have gained over 25 thousand followers on my instagram, I started a youtube channel, featured in around 12 news articles, created a support group for young women with cancer, continued with university and graduated with a 2:1. All whilst undergoing 6 months of intensive chemo therapy… But most importantly, I have gained a better understanding of life and how I want mine to be lead.
Thank you so much for allowing me to feature your journey Olivia,
Love Emily x