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A young woman, who has a skin flap on her right cheek caused by removing a tumour, smiles at the camera. She is wearing glasses and a black t-shirt.

Crystal’s story: “You can do anything you set your mind to”

Actor Crystal, who has a skin flap on her right cheek, is determined that actors with visible differences should be seen and heard.

In 2016 at the age of 18 years old, I was diagnosed with a rare facial osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in my right cheek bone. Even though the chemotherapy helped the tumour go down massively, unfortunately, it started to come back just two months after finishing chemo.

My surgeon at the UCLH Hospital in London had to do an emergency operation on my face. I have a thick skin flap on my right cheek from when they took the tumour out and I have no front teeth at all. It took me almost two years to not hide in my house all the time and start to re-join society again.

I’m not going to lie, it has been tough trying to live this new life looking different. The stares and looks I get have been challenging… but day by day I’m slowly getting used to them. No matter how upsetting it can be.

I wanted to prove not only to myself but to other people with a visible difference that you can do anything you set your mind to.

While there has been some ups and downs in my life, one constant has been that I’ve always loved performing and storytelling. And after nearly a three-year break from acting as I adjusted to living with a visible difference, I decided to apply to drama school in 2019.

I applied because I was at a place in my life where I wasn’t happy. I was volunteering at my local theatre, hiding in the background and doing stage management work because I had never seen an actor with a visible difference on stage before.

I believed for a long time that it wouldn’t be possible for a person like me to become an actor, until I banished that thought and began to think, ‘Why not me?’ I wanted to prove not only to myself but to other people with a visible difference that you can do anything you set your mind to.

I wanted to be an actress because I wanted that little child, who might be getting bullied for how they look, to see a strong-willed and powerful character that they can look up to.

In June 2020, I got an email saying that I had been accepted by LAMDA drama school onto their Foundation Diploma course. I was over the moon and bursting with joy and excitement. I not only felt like I’d finally caught a break, but also that my mission to be an advocate for visibly different actors was now possible.

I am excited about the first-class acting training that I am going to experience, learning new things like combat training, and helping my school learn how to support actors with visible differences. I know it’s going to be a great first year, and I can’t wait to see what I’ll have learned by the end of it.

I believe that now is the right time for actors with visible differences to be seen and heard. We are more than a villain with a scar, more than a character who is feared, teased or ignored. We are so much more.

Michonne from The Walking Dead and Viola Davis in How To Get Away With Murder were my heroes growing up, and I hope that we will see many more people with visible differences on the screen in years to come – heroes for everyone out there who looks or feels different.

I can see it.

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