Posted on Tuesday 13 August 2019

Crystal’s story – thanks to CLIC Sargent’s support I can follow my dream of being a stage manager

In 2016, just after her 18th birthday, performing arts student Crystal was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer. The cancer was in her upper jaw on the right side of the gum, which is incredibly rare. 

As the disease grew on her jaw it became disfiguring, which made Crystal feel increasingly self-conscious and she started to hide behind a long wig. At one point, a surgeon said that he’d have to ‘take her jaw apart’ and ‘remove her nose’, which caused her to become depressed. 

Crystal’s chemotherapy was intense but, despite the many associated health issues, it shrank the tumour, meaning surgery was not so invasive. Great friends, a supportive mum, and CLIC Sargent Social Worker Sam helped her regain her confidence. 

In 2018, Crystal applied for CLIC Sargent and Societe Generale’s Thrive Not Just Survive grant so that she could pursue her new dream of becoming a stage manager. 

Crystal said: “On Mother’s Day in 2016 my sister noticed that my right nostril was slightly more raised than my left one. After she inspected it more closely, and lifted my top lip up, she said it looked like I had a small abscess on my upper right gum. My sister believes that every bump that develops on a body is important, and so I booked an appointment with my GP. 

By coincidence I had a dentist appointment booked the morning of the same day of my GP appointment. They felt around it, and took a couple of X-rays but the results came back all clear. Then later when I went to the GP and asked her to also inspect my bump, she too thought it was an abscess, but didn’t seem that sure, and gave me some antibiotics. I went back to the dentist to discuss what the GP had said and they wrote me a referral to go to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to get it checked out. 

At the time it didn’t hurt that much, but the doctors at the hospital decided to do a biopsy and after that happened, I started to feel a lot of pain.  I was on lots of painkillers, it felt like something painful was pushing against my cheek and gum constantly, and my face got a lot bigger. 

I started to feel really self-conscious, I was a teenage girl and naturally felt self-conscious enough anyway and my confidence went down a lot. I was a performing arts student and that meant I had to get up on stage, and have my work recorded for assessments and my face was really big and it was hard to show expressions. It was truly a dark and frustrating time for me. 

After a surgeon decided to operate to remove the growth, Crystal found out that it was cancer. She then began a seven month course of chemotherapy.  

In April 2017 the tumour grew back and Crystal underwent a 13 hour operation, followed by a month’s stay in hospital to recover.  

Throughout the ordeal, Crystal was supported by her CLIC Sargent Social Worker Sam, who provided emotional and practical support, helping her to access benefits and grants to cope with the additional financial costs through treatment.  

She said: “Sam was a really funny guy; he really cared about the young people he was around. At the start of my treatment I felt caged in and upset with how I looked and the pain I felt. After I had developed my confidence again I really appreciated his kind-hearted nature and found a friend through him, which I am more appreciative of now. 

Crystal felt unable to continue with performing arts, and found a new passion in stage management. She applied for the ‘Thrive Not Just Survive’ grant to help her progress with her career aspirations.  

When I heard I got the grant it felt like I had finally got a break and could look forward to something outside of the hospital.

She said: “It broke my heart when the tumour made it seem like I couldn’t act anymore, but I was lucky to discover stage management.  

“When a person is given an opportunity to learn about their passion, nothing can stop them. Receiving the grant means I can go to the best stage management course and work with people who can help me reach my dream. 

“When I heard I got the grant it felt like I had finally got a break and could look forward to something outside of the hospital. It has given me a more positive outlook and faith that I can achieve my goal.” 

Crystal is due to undergo another operation later in 2019. After this she plans to use the grant money to begin a short course studying Stage Management at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and start working towards her dream job. She is also enjoying work experience at The Cresent Theatre, where she’s learning stage management. 

Find out more about the Thrive Not Just Survive grant and how you can apply.

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