Diagnosed with leukemia at 19, Ruby Walvin tells Ayan Omar the story of her hellish treatment period, the subsequent loss of her voice and identity, and how she once again found herself amidst the chaos of her life.
21-year-old student Ruby Walvin, like any other, commencing on adulthood, felt unbreakable. Starting her first year at Liverpool Institute for Performing Art, she felt that she could leave an indelible mark in her time there. The thought of falling victim to an illness never hit Ruby. But unknown to her, cancer was slowly leeching her spirit.
The devastating diagnosis
Ruby was adamant the signs of her Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia were attributed to her vivacious student life. But on March 2019, news of her diagnosis would snap whatever denial she harbored and force her to reckon with reality.
“As a student, you’re tired all the time.” She recalls the moments where the fatigue and exhaustion were slowly debilitating her.
Her breathing worsened, bruising, and rashes began forming on her body, and she felt constantly lethargic. These were only the tip of the iceberg for the myriad of severe and achingly painful symptoms Ruby would begin to exhibit.
“I remember ringing my parents, telling them that the hospital wanted to keep me in overnight.” She was detached, nonchalant despite the gravity of the situation.
“I was very blasé; it was going straight over my head.”
Ruby’s medically trained parents, however, understood the uncomfortable truth that would soon send Ruby spiraling into a new unfamiliar territory of chemotherapy, constant hospital visits, and essentially letting go of the normal things that anchored her to her world.
The Teenage Cancer Trust ward in Leicester became Ruby’s new home. Severed from everything she once knew, university, friends, her musical career, and the outside world, she began the first blast of intensive treatment.
“ALL progresses very fast, we didn’t have time for anything. I was diagnosed on Tuesday and chemo began on Thursday.”
Ruby’s treatment process
She would begin a rapid and intense treatment process that left her body feeling foreign and in a nightmarish state between recovery and gravely ill.
“They’re just blasting the hell out of you with chemo and steroids.”
She remembers the dreaded hair loss, the fluctuating weight changes, the weakened immune system that left her vulnerable, and constant nausea and vomiting. But what terrified Ruby the most was the looming possibility that cancer may have stripped her of something else.
Progressing at an alarming rate, leukemia left her susceptible to a hoard of other physically encumbering conditions. Her grueling treatment of steroid medications ground her bones, weakening them, which led to osteoporosis. Shortly after, Ruby suffered devastating septic arthritis that left her unable to hold her guitar and perform.
The hardest thing to reconcile with was struggling to get back into singing. As a singer, her voice was her most prized talent. But as her treatment went on, Ruby’s motivation declined as a result of her enervating fatigue. She felt as if she was on the brink of never-ending chaos. Ruby felt helpless, blow after blow, but she held on, determined.
Ruby was very young when she began singing. She came from a family that wasn’t musically inclined, yet Ruby made a point to be the first. It came to her very naturally, making music, singing, and songwriting.
“I started out by writing comedy songs as a kid. I was honestly proud of myself.” It was there that Ruby would begin to mold her talent.
Slowly through her treatment, Ruby unwavering defied her obstacles and began writing again. It is precisely those lyrics of her painful experience, poured out that let her transcend beyond her bleak condition.
Her new single, The Game, encapsulates the emotions she felt, battling only the first year of her leukemia treatment. What is unique about the song is that it is not just a theme song to her cancer story. Its ambiguity allows anyone experiencing any pain or struggle to relate.
“It’s not a song just about cancer, it could be about mental health issues, grief, or a breakup.”
The title of her song, Ruby reveals, is a humorous wordplay on her strive to beat cancer. A metaphor she uses to remind herself that there is yet more to come. Each round she faces, she will stand with a ferocity.
“It’s a bit like a game, you get past one round and there’s another.”
Ruby is more determined, more resolute than ever to beat her cancer and come out hopefully unscathed. The positive outpour of appraisal and support she has received has acted as reinforcement.
“I know I will get through this.”
There will be scars to bare. But the heroine of this game is not done yet.
You can find The Game on iTunes and Spotify under Ruby Walvin or check it out here.