How surviving cancer shaped my music and my faith

After surviving cancer, Sarah Téibo wants to seize every moment.

Gospel artist Sarah Téibo was told by medics she may never sing again after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The mother of two underwent urgent surgery to remove a cancerous tumour and struggled to process what this could mean for her career. Although devastated by this news, Sarah remained faithful that God would guide her through this difficult journey towards recovery.

Christian Today spoke with Sarah to hear more about how her faith carried her through this difficult time and how it has shaped her music and her relationship with God.

Tell us about your journey through making gospel music up until your cancer diagnosis.

I started recording music in 2015 with the release of my first single 'Steal my joy'. Prior to this, I had been very active for many years in my church choir as a worship leader - this is something I still do today and it is probably where I find the most joy and sense of purpose. This debut single was followed by three studio albums - 'Walk with me', 'Keep walking' and 'Restored' released from 2016 to 2021.

My team and I had decided it was time to start working on the next project, so we had planned a songwriting session for May 2023 but the month before, I got the devastating news that I had a cancerous tumour on my thyroid. The main symptom was a swelling on my neck, and though I was not in pain, initial scans by my GP caused some alarm, which prompted further tests with specialists. Following this, it was confirmed that there was a tumour on my thyroid which was cancerous and needed to be removed.

What went through your mind when you received the diagnosis?

It felt like I'd just been punched in the throat when I was delivered the diagnosis, accompanied by my husband. I am sure my heart sank to the floor of that hospital consultation room. I tried to keep a brave face in the consultation room as the doctor and Macmillan nurse talked me through what to expect next and the risks that came with the procedure, but I could not keep it together when I got home and immediately broke down in tears. It was just too much for me to process or accept.

Being a very private person, my first instinct when I received the diagnosis was to just process it within my own space. And I did this for several months before finally making a public statement about what I had been going through - particularly the aftermath of the surgery. One reason I eventually decided to share my story publicly was so that it would hopefully encourage anyone who might be going through a similar experience

How did your faith carry you through that time?

My faith played a huge part in processing this phase of my life alongside my family. Though I struggled with the diagnosis and initially even rejected it, I remember going to God and just asking Him 'why?!' I was broken, in despair and very open with my heavenly Father. It was in this place of vulnerability that God comforted and told me that if I never had a sickness, I would never know Him to be my healer. Sometimes as Christians, we want to go through life without any challenges, but it is through challenges that we put our faith to the test, and prove that God is truly who He says He is.

As I continued to navigate what this could mean for my future as a singer, I took a step of faith and attended the songwriting sessions we had booked for May 2023. This was just within three weeks of major surgery and I went in with dressing from surgery still on my neck. I could barely produce coherent sounds. I don't know how I got through it, but somehow I did!

This was undoubtedly the most anxious I'd been at any point in my life. The thought of possibly never being able to sing with my signature power and pitch was quite terrifying, but my faith played a huge part in keeping me positive about the future.

What was the recovery process like?

The recovery process was initially quite painful as I gradually recovered from the surgery. In the first few weeks after surgery, I found eating, speaking and singing terribly difficult, and I needed to give my body time and space to heal. I needed to slow down - something I often find quite hard to do! The months that followed were less painful, and I was able to begin my journey to recovery, starting with vocal therapy sessions

Why was it important for you to release your single 'All Clear', which was born out of this turbulent journey?

My hope is that by sharing my testimony of navigating fear, faith, vulnerability and healing using songs from the project, I would be able to encourage and inspire people who may be going through a challenging season in their lives. The song 'All Clear', which is the very first track on my newly released EP, 'Human Like Me', starts off with 4 words - 'it's gonna be ok.' More people need to hear this.

How has your relationship with your voice changed?

Through this whole experience, my biggest fear was the possibility of losing my voice. This is something that was pointed out to me before I even went into surgery. It turned out that after surgery, I did have mild vocal paresis which meant part of my vocal cord was mildly paralysed, resulting in the need for me to have vocal rehab to regain the strength in my vocal cords and essentially learn to sing again. Following the completion of my vocal therapy, I have a renewed appreciation for my voice and have learned so many new techniques that have actually made me an even better singer than I was.

What is your outlook on life and relationship with God like now as a cancer survivor?

It was a great relief to get the 'all clear' after surgery! I genuinely feel privileged that my story did not end in a different way. I now have a new outlook on life in general and my new motto is 'seize every moment'. This means these days, I would rather enjoy an experience (like at a concert), than take videos or photos. I just immerse myself into every chance I get at life. This experience also reminded me of how gracious and truly merciful God is. Even in moments when we seem to lose our faith, He remains faithful.

'Human Like Me' Sarah's fourth studio album is now available to stream and download from all music platforms.