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Spotify: Good Energy – Toniie Rubio

Toniie was always musical in school. She lived and breathed it – it was her ‘thing’. She was music captain, and known as the girl who was going to uni to sing. We were both in Nightingale, and I remember her struggling to save us from ourselves in House Music. Countless hours and an insurmountable amount of patience went into preventing us from butchering Biffy Clyro’s ‘Many of Horror’. She was a few years above me at school, so if it wasn’t to do with house or music, we rarely crossed paths. But when we did she’d always make me laugh, and she lightened my subtle disdain for chamber choir.

Toniie is now 25, and she recently went back to our old school to give a speech. When she had imagined coming back to speak at JCG, she’d always assumed it would be for something music related. She never thought she’d come back to speak about surviving cancer.

Toniie was in her fourth year of university when she found a tumour on her thyroid. She was completing a Masters, had just moved into a new flat with friends, and was qualifying to become a teacher. Suddenly, she was in a doctor’s office fighting medical professionals for a diagnosis. Toniie says she’s always been confident, but having the courage to doubt doctors who couldn’t see past her appearance was difficult. Especially considering she was only in her early twenties.

Trying to figure out life as a female twentysomething is hard enough on its own. No one told you life was gonna be this way. Five year plans go out the window every three months, and no one’s figured out what they’re doing yet. One minute we want to travel, the next we’re craving home, and we lose and find ourselves somewhere between the two. Some have moved out, others haven’t, but either way we’re all balancing a craving for freedom with the growing pains that this independence brings. To add the shock of a cancer diagnosis into this mix is something incomprehensible to most. It took Toniie a while to come to terms with it. She couldn’t understand how it had happened – “you’re in your twenties. You’re in the prime of your life”. She added “you’re already quite vulnerable… you don’t really know what you’re doing”. This, paired with the misrepresentation of cancer patients in the media, is what spurs her main message; “cancer isn’t a one-size-fits-all. You can look like me and still have cancer. You can look like me and still be a cancer survivor”.

Ultimately, everything that Toniie does is about raising awareness of this fact. One in two people get cancer at some point in their lives, and she brings comfort to her audience by posting the realities of her experience. She gets hundreds of messages from all over the world. She shares her story to encourage people to go for check-ups, even if they do seem young and healthy. If it weren’t for someone else’s video, Toniie wouldn’t have caught her cancer when she did. She was recently approached by someone in Jersey who discovered a tumour on their thyroid because of her. It was a full circle moment for Toniie, who said “I saw a video that saved my life, and I just potentially saved someone else’s life”.

Toniie wasn’t always so open about her cancer diagnosis. Her story is not only one of recovery, but of self-acceptance and confidence too. When she was originally diagnosed, she lost people who she thought she was close to. People wouldn’t hug her in the street, because they were scared they would ‘catch’ her cancer. Lots of people distanced themselves from her because the whole thing made them feel uncomfortable. Before running the Race for Life in 2023, Toniie joked that her cancer was “Jersey’s best kept secret”. When running this race she finally decided to stop being embarrassed of her cancer. The back of her T-Shirt read ‘I’m running for me’, and this was a real milestone in her cancer journey. She said “I used to feel really strange in my own body, but now I’m proud of myself. It’s taken a really long time”.

Toniie’s content unashamedly talks about body image, in a way that is healing for a younger female audience. Her battle with cancer was instrumental in developing this mindset of body positivity. When she first became unwell, Toniie rapidly lost three stone. She said “people were praising me for how I looked… saying ‘you’re so skinny’ or ‘wow you’ve lost weight’”. Whilst people were assuming she was the healthiest she’s ever been, she was passing out regularly and was severely unwell. Behind the scenes of her Instagram, Toniie was being resuscitated in hospital. But the praise she was receiving kept fuelling an obsession with her image. She said “people kept telling me I looked amazing, and I was dying. I genuinely was so unwell. I was admitted to hospital twelve times within three months”.

When she got told she had cancer, something clicked. “Why have I spent so much time worrying about the way I look?”, she questioned. In a video from her recent holiday, Toniie smiles in the sun at the camera in a two piece swimsuit. The text overlaid reads ‘I used to be too insecure about my body to wear a bikini but then I got cancer and realised my body is my home and I’m just grateful to be alive’. She continues ‘life is too short to obsess over how you look’. She told me that right now, she’s the heaviest she’s been in four years, but she is the strongest, healthiest and most confident version of herself. She sees food as fuel for her body, to play football, netball and do dancing. She wishes that we could compliment each other less on our appearances and more on our personalities. Don’t tell a young woman she’s beautiful, tell her she’s got “good energy”. This, Toniie says, is “the biggest compliment you can give to someone”.

Toniie Rubio is an amazing woman who has achieved so much. Over the past eighteen months she’s accumulated millions of views on TikTok and Instagram, spreading awareness of what it’s like to be a young woman with cancer. Her content stretches into topics such as the general struggles of being a twentysomething, navigating friendships and relationships, as well as documenting her love for the island she calls home. She’s attracted attention from both local and national TV stations, newspapers and charities, and was even invited to speak at the Royal Albert Hall. She was nominated for a BBC Jersey Make a Difference Award, and has worked on campaigns with Macmillan and Teenage Cancer Trust. She’s currently working closely with local charity CLIC Sargent, who helped Toniie personally during her fight with cancer.

Despite all these things, Toniie’s greatest achievement was staring death in the face and saying “not yet”. She’s cancer free, and living life to the full. Her enthusiasm and joy is infectious, and to many she’s the older sister who helps you smile through the shitshow of your early twenties. Her mantra says it all: ‘cancer can take my thyroid but not my humour’. Her story is invaluable to cancer patients and their loved ones, but it is also invaluable to everyone else too. Whether you’re dealing with mental health, body image, relationships or grief, Toniie’s content is bound to make you laugh, cry, and then feel a little better. She is basking in the light at the end of her tunnel, reminding us there’s light at the end of ours too.

TikTok: @toniie.rubio

Instagram: @toniie_rubio

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