Musician Molly Young was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer this past February, at age 29. Now, she’s spending her chemotherapy sessions creating music videos complete with costumes, makeup, and lip syncing.
“I want to take something traumatic and unfair and say, ‘I have to be here anyway—I’m going to make it fun,’” Young—who turned 30 just weeks after she began treatment—tells SELF of the creative, costumed, and often beautiful lip-sync videos she’s been producing during her chemo appointments. “It’s a self-distraction, too. I like having something else to focus on. Tapping into my performance life helps me to cope and feel stronger.”
“I almost didn’t want to mention the lump,” she says. “I hoped it would just go away—and that maybe if I didn’t say anything, it wasn’t a big deal.” She was sent for breast imaging and then a biopsy. The radiologist told Young that a nurse would call her for follow-up if everything was fine but that he himself would call if there was something to discuss. The next day, Young received a voicemail from the radiologist—just as she was getting on a train from her home in Baltimore to New York City and losing cell reception. “He asked me to call him back,” she says. “But when I heard that the message was from the doctor, that’s when I realized—oh my God, I have cancer.”
Her primary-care physician also received the news and quickly reached out. “She called and asked if I had anyone with me at the time and if I was OK,” Young says. “And she was able to give me some more information about my diagnosis.”
“Everyone has that moment of hearing a song that they especially connect to,” she says. And given than Young has a background in music—she received a Bachelor of Music degree from Western Michigan University in 2010 and Masters degrees in voice performance and early music voice from the Peabody Institute of John Hopkins University in 2013, and now works as a performer and vocal/piano teacher in Baltimore—the idea evolved from there.
To make her videos, Young listens to songs through headphones and chooses to lip sync rather than sing out loud. “So many other people are there [getting treatment] too,” she says. “I’m not there to disrupt.” But within her own treatment space, she goes big with video-ready makeup, props, and wigs. “Chemo is the only time I wear wigs,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t usually wear anything on my head. I’ve gotten many compliments on my skull!”
Before beginning treatment, she explained to her students, some of whom are children, what would be happening. “One child asked if I would be bald,” she says. “I said yes, and that it would mean the drugs are working.” But she’s found ways to use her bald head in her videos—like portraying Daddy Warbucks from Annie or using it as a base for spinning pinwheels. To complete her projects, she uses the app Videostar: “I can put the songs into it and edit on my phone.”
“I had such a feeling of foreboding before starting chemo—what’s going to happen to me?” she recalls. In addition to giving her a distraction, the recordings are also meant to help her loved ones. “I think about my family,” she says, “and how in a way they worry about this even more than I do. I want them to know I’m still me. This is my way of saying hello.”
Reaching beyond her own circle, Young makes all the videos public on her Facebook page and has also created a YouTube channel for them. “I have heard from many friends how they share the videos, especially with anyone going through treatment or who’s newly diagnosed,” she says. “It’s been incredibly humbling to know that they’re having some effect on people I’ll never meet, giving them something to smile about or laugh at in the midst of trying times. If I can use my ridiculousness to help someone else, that’s the best I can hope for.”
As Young counts down chemo sessions (she’ll be done in mid-October), she thinks about what she’d want women who’ve just been diagnosed to know.
“Have patience with yourself,” she says. “Give yourself allowance to break down, and acknowledge all the rough sides. But also look for ways to build yourself back up. I believe that outlook and attitude make a huge difference in how you take what’s coming to you. This whole process is not really about what happens to you but what you do with it.”
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