In a lot of ways, Dan McBride is like any other teenager. He’s relaxing in between working shifts at a gym in Port Solent, while his mum Karen is worried that he’s not got everything ready before he heads off to study in London next week.
But three years ago Dan’s world was turned upside down when he got the devastating news that he had thyroid cancer, extremely rare in boys his age.
He’d been picked as a winner of The News Instant Star competition for his piano-playing ability and life was looking good.
Dan, who lives in Gosport, looks back at those times with fondness, saying: ‘I was only about 15 and had been playing piano for just a year. It was a lot of fun.’
But he soon received a crushing blow – in November 2010 the teenager was diagnosed with an aggressive form of thyroid cancer, just after starting his A-Levels at South Downs College.
‘It was quite rare for a guy my age to get it,’ Dan explains in a matter-of-fact tone.
‘I knew it was going to be hard, so I just needed to get on with it. I told myself that it wouldn’t stop me doing anything. I just lived with it and found a way of coping.’
Dan threw himself into his music and continued playing the piano, as well as the violin and accordion. With the support of his family, girlfriend Megan and best friend Joe, he began treatment.
Now he has got his reward for his determination by winning a place at the world-renowned Royal College of Music in London. He starts there next week.
Dan, 19, had to have two operations, two courses of radio iodine and then another stronger dose.
At home he had to stay in the spare room because he couldn’t contaminate his own bedroom with radiation. Dan couldn’t even get near the people he loved.
It took its toll on the teenager mentally and physically.
‘It took me a few years to get over it and, to be honest, I’m still recovering. But I took a year off and changed my subjects at college,’ he says.
‘I knew I wanted to do music and I didn’t want to waste any more time. It was a risk because I knew I wouldn’t have anything to fall back on.’
Dan adds: ‘When I was in treatment I couldn’t play, so I wrote music. It was something I really connected with.
‘I even love just having a conversation about music, I get really into it.’
He quickly turned his attention to the future, and where he would go once he finished college.
Dan explains: ‘I saw the Royal College of Music and I just fell in love with it. I visited the museum there when I was younger and I never forgot it.
‘I loved the atmosphere and I thought if I wanted to do music, this is where I needed to go and do it. Even if I had to apply year after year, I was going to go.’
So when he was offered an unconditional place following an audition, Dan was overjoyed.
He says: ‘I’m going to live in London and I think I will love it there. Everything I’ve been working towards is happening, and it’s amazing because I really didn’t think I was good enough. I nearly didn’t even audition.’
As well as studying for a degree in music, Dan will receive one-on-one tuition at the college.
He explains: ‘It’s more vocational than a traditional degree. I’m really excited.’
But Dan admits that after finishing his A-Levels, the effects of suffering from cancer soon began to catch up with him.
‘After I got my place, I kind of felt like everything I had worked towards for so long had happened. I started to feel a bit low.’
At the time, Dan was in contact with CLIC Sargent, a charity which supports children and young people suffering from cancer. The group gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Dan says: ‘They took me on an expedition to the Rocky Mountains in Canada for two weeks.
‘It was absolutely incredible. I’ve just got back and I’m so excited to get on with things. I learned so much from being out there.’
Now Dan’s getting ready to leave for the Royal College of Music. At the moment he’s clear of cancer, but has to wait five years to be told he’s recovered – not that he’s letting that change anything.
Clearly excited about moving out and heading off to the big city, Dan says: ‘If anything I’ve used the cancer for motivation. I’d never take it away and not have it.
‘It’s given me opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and the motivation it has given me has helped so much.
‘I find myself grateful for having it, which sounds horrible, but I am.’
Dan explains: ‘I see it as a slap in the face that everyone needs at some point. I’m lucky to have had it at such a young age because I see life in a different way now to a lot of people.’
Dan believes it’s now time to look ahead, not behind.
He explains: ‘I’ve finally got over the cancer.
‘It’s part of my life, but I want to live the best life I can now.’