“I was only sixteen”. “I was only sixteen when they said I had to go, and you’re never, ever ready for a trip like that.” This is how young people who experience a tumor feel. Throw yourself into “a strange reality, like a PlayStation game, with no lives to spare”. And yet a 16-year-old teenager would just like to “love and be free”, “ride a bicycle in the rain and be late everywhere”, “sing himself hoarse” and “dance until dawn”. To make these emotions fly on the wings of the notes of a poetic and poignant ballad, an international star has lent her voice to the youth project of the National Cancer Institute of Milan (Int). Teenager being treated in the Irccs in via Venezian and authors of the new song, written this time in English: Tony Hadley, former frontman of Spandau Ballet, pop icon, the surprise that made the project presented today in the Lombard capital unique.
“I was only sixteen is fantastic,” Hadley said in a video message in which she recalled all the people and organizations involved in the initiative. “The kids wrote it, we want to raise awareness, hope you like it.” The musical project is also the result of collaboration with prominent names on the Italian music scene, including Faso, bassist of the group Elio e le Storie Tese. The song aims to become an anthem for all teenagers who are facing an oncological disease. In Italy there are about 900, between 15 and 19 years old, who fall ill every year. Of these, 80% have a good chance of recovery, but it is essential that patients are able to receive the right care, at the right time and place. Progetto Giovani aims to raise awareness of this.
With I was only sixteen the kids tell their story again: from one day to the next each of them had to turn their lives upside down and found themselves facing a difficult path. “I was sitting in a chair in front of the doctors as they talked about my illness. All I could think about was that I wanted to get out and run,” are the words of the song. A song that also celebrates courage and friendship (“true friends are like stars”), and communicates positivity. “I took all the clothes out of my suitcase”, and “I filled it with strength and hope”, the boys say. “I looked in the mirror and said to myself: Now it’s your turn”.
“A song written in English to take these kids’ dreams even further, on an international level – explains Andrea Ferrari, creator and coordinator of the Youth Project – The words of our kids are truly a hymn to life: I was only sixteen is the song of all teenagers with cancer in the world”. A song available today on all streaming platforms (https://bfan.link/i-was-only-sixteen), with which the young people of the Int are back to amaze after the success of ‘Palle di Natale’, Christmas hit launched in 2016 and went viral in a short time.
“The teenagers of the Progetto Giovani are a daily source of inspiration and example for all of us – underlines Marco Votta, president of the Int of Milan – The Institute proves once again that it is a center of excellence not only for research and treatment, but also for the attention dedicated to the patient with the aim of maintaining their individuality even during this journey”. The lyrics of the song derive from the project ‘Taken from a true story’, the podcast created by the boys of the Youth Project in 2021, with the coordination of Gianfelice Facchetti and still available on Spotify. A selection of sentences written by the boys have been adapted by themselves and transformed into a real ballad that tells the story of each sick boy. Faso, Stefano Signoroni, Giacomo Ruggeri and Tommaso Ruggeri composed and performed the music.
“The melody arose spontaneously from the words, they have an incredible strength that touches your soul – says Faso – Then, with the help of Luca Mezzadra, the sound engineer of the EelST studio, and the singing contributions of Miriam Conte, we recorded the song. It has been a privilege to be involved in this project.” Thus was born a song that was not very easy for the boys to sing, the promoters of the initiative specify, with solo parts for which it would have been nice to find a real singer who could interpret their words in the best way. And as with many other somewhat magical stories of Progetto Giovani, here’s the twist: Tony Hadley lent his incredible voice, which blends together with that of the boys in the chorus. “I immediately accepted the proposal. The words of these guys – Hadley says – struck me deeply. This project is truly unique”.
“Our main objective is to be able to treat adolescents, offering them adequate infrastructure and services – explains Maura Massimino, director of the complex structure of oncological pediatrics of the INT – Unfortunately this does not always happen. From a clinical point of view, in fact, adolescents they are in a certain sense in a middle ground, with difficulty accessing excellent care and enrollment in clinical trials”. “Telling the stories of our kids – adds Ferrari – is also essential for bringing attention to the more complex aspects of treatment. With the same disease, an adolescent is less likely to recover than a child. To improve this situation, dedicated projects are needed, like our Youth Project, but also national and international projects that define shared and institutional approaches”.
I was only sixteen was created thanks to the contribution of the Bianca Garavaglia Association (Abg), which since 1987 has supported the clinical activity and research of the department. All proceeds from downloads of the song from digital music platforms will be donated to Abg and the Youth Project. The lyrics video of the song is also available on the Youth Project YouTube channel. “With our teenage patients – says Ferrari – we wanted to tell their journey, from when you pack your suitcase, emptying it of clothes to go dancing and filling it with hope, courage, determination and lots of pajamas, to when you find yourself sitting on a chair in front of the doctors and you can’t think of anything else but the desire to escape. Without forgetting the nights in the company of the ‘beep beep’ of the chemotherapy pump”.
“There is a lot of melancholy and there is a lot of hospital in the text – he observes – but then there is also the discovery of friends who give enormous help and know how to show the right path, such as ward companions, the friends found here in the Progetto Giovani. In the end, here is the desire to ride a bike in the rain, sing until I no longer have a voice and dance until dawn”. There are many projects that have been developed in recent years as part of the Youth Project. These include the songs ‘Palle di Natale’ and ‘Sei tu l’estate’, the photographic project ‘The pursuit of happiness’, the comic strip ‘Loop, there is no going back’ and the videos of ‘Tumorial’.