We chatted with the Instagram influencer-turned-entrepreneur about building a business, the challenges of fighting cancer and how her online following became one of her biggest support systems.
You might know Courtney Neville AKA “Young Baby Coco” from her Insta-presence, her long-term relationship with U.S. rapper, Kevin Pouya, or from her successful brand, Baby Coco Lash. At 28 years old, she is staring at success but the journey has been far from easy and it may be far from over. Last year, Neville was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of Stage 3 cancer which affects one to three individuals in a million people each year. She has been through chemotherapy and is still continuing with radiation treatment.
Undoubtedly, the daunting reality of her diagnosis and the physical toll from the necessary treatments would be heavy enough to weigh on anyone, but her extraordinary positivity throughout these health challenges prove her perseverance and refusal to give up. We chatted with Young Baby Coco herself about her daily hurdles, her unrelenting support system, building a business from scratch, and the way that Instagram has influenced her life.
What was your initial reaction when you found out you had cancer?
I laughed; I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t believe it to be honest. One to three people out of a million are diagnosed with synovial sarcoma each year. It just doesn’t make sense that I’m one of them. I’ve always been super healthy and happy, you know? I keep thinking ‘this can’t be happening to me,’ I feel like it’s all just a bad dream. I’m still convinced that it is…
What are the challenges of the treatments?
The challenges are countless. Aside from the physical changes: losing all my hair, the pain, nausea, constant fatigue, living life like I’m 72 when I’m 27, one of the hardest challenges is how alone I feel.
Fighting to live at such a young age from a disease that is so rare makes the feeling of unfairness and anger overpowering. I have an overwhelming support system and the generosity from total strangers has changed my life. I literally feel like I will never be the same again. But honestly, cancer is evil and no matter how strong your support system is, you can still be sucked into such a dark and lonely place.
You’ve been channeling your journey on Instagram. Does this help you through the process?
For a long time I kept it a secret. Only my parents, boyfriend and best friends were aware. It was only when I started my first round of chemotherapy that I came out on Instagram about it. I went back and forth trying to decide if I should continue keeping it a secret, but I didn’t want to lie to people. I already had this platform with a bunch of followers before the cancer and I didn’t want to lose my identity to the illness. I initially wanted to keep it to myself because I didn’t want people to think of me as ‘that girl with cancer.’
Having said that, many of my followers have told me that I’m helping them fight their own battles, so I feel good about coming forward. I’ve received thousands of emails and letters, along with comments, gifts, paintings and art since then. It’s not just the love I feel from them that keeps me going, it’s the fact that I’m helping other people too!
Is your way of thinking completely different to how it was before?
I don’t believe this is my reality, in all honesty. It’s weird. I’m very numb and it all feels like one big, bad dream. I think sometimes when we are afraid or in shock we go numb. However I was a very positive, happy, optimistic person before I was diagnosed with cancer. And I’d say that I am, in fact, even more so now because I know I have to follow my dreams and keep going. I’m still scared, but optimistic.
Does this change your hopes and dreams for the future?
Yes, there’s so much I want to do! I want to be on Broadway one day, buy my parents a house on the beach, get married and have Kevin’s children. I’d like to start a charity for sarcoma and donate far more money to child hunger. I want to avoid cancer coming back for the rest of my life, but that might not be realistic. So I’m going to do everything I possibly can to ensure I’ve achieved all my dreams before I ever have to face this evil again.
I honestly don’t think I will be able to undergo continuous treatments; it’s too much for me. If it comes to that, I just might have to say no. But I want to grow old with Kevin! I just pray that God keeps me here to do it all.
You’re undergoing major treatments right now and still running your line of vegan beauty products. The ‘Angel’ set of lashes were released just recently and the look is hella angelic for sure! How are you managing it all?!
It’s so important for me to stay distracted; if I’m not at least a little busy I go crazy. I hate being bored. I’ve always been one of those people who loves being productive and always has a, to-do list! I started the company on my own from scratch and I take pride in being financially very independent. I don’t rely on anyone to take care of me – not that it’s bad if you do have financial support!
I also have great people behind me, my team are a huge help! While I’m engaged with the entire process, running a company is not a one-woman show.
Although you’ve struck gold in the beauty industry, your background is in theater and ballet. Are you aiming to get back into performing?
Theater will always be where my heart is! I don’t think I’ll ever feel totally complete until I am back on stage again. I was never much of a dancer, although I do have a minor in ballet from my time at Point Park University. I’m quite proud of this, since it’s one of the top dance schools in the country.
But since I was mostly acting growing up, the stage will always have my heart. I feel like I’m kind of in a weird place for the industry right now – not only emotionally but physically. I don’t look young enough to be a teenager, but I don’t think I look old (or my age) either. I think I’m too old to play child roles but too young to play adult roles, haha! Because of this, I’m hoping to get back into theater when I mature physically.
Who are you influenced by in the theater world?
OMG, Elaine Stritch – she’ll always be an icon, I love her so much! I so want to be like her.
What do you enjoy most about acting?
It shows people that they are not alone in their emotions. If the play or script is well written, they will convey human emotion in all of it’s beauty and pain. When people are able to relate to a character in their pain or happiness, I think it’s helpful since it gives people strength to realize they are not alone in their sadness, anger, or whatever emotion they are feeling.
Are you ever overwhelmed by the pressures of social media?
For me, I don’t care too much about aesthetics or keeping up with a certain vibe on my page. Most of my photos are really low quality, I guess. But I definitely do get overwhelmed, sadly. For example, I hate picking out a photo. I’m indecisive, but I like maintaining some sort of organization to express my style. Even so, it doesn’t concern me too much.
I think the most important factor is that I be myself and don’t get misunderstood. I wish everyone could meet me and get to know me. This might sound conceited, but I don’t know anyone who really truly knows me and doesn’t like me. Social media is overwhelming from this side of things because you could be misunderstood, similar to how it’s easy to be misunderstood via text, you know?
You’ve been extremely open that another huge support system for you is your boyfriend, Kevin Pouya. What are the trials and tribulations of dating a rapper?
Being apart when he’s touring is hard! When I miss him, I listen to his music and that helps. It’s never easy or ideal, although it has gotten easier over the years. When I first met Kevin, he was doing shows for crowds of 300. Now he’s touring in a huge, luxurious bus and has thousands of kids watching him perform. I’m so proud of him and would never, ever make him feel bad for doing his job.
We trust each other with all our hearts and have never been unfaithful to each other. We have remained loyal since the day we met and that’s huge. Trust and true love is always number one. It’s all you need, and we definitely have that.
I’m super independent, so I stay really busy while he’s touring. I’ve gone on an entire tour with him when we first started dating, but I usually visit him for a few weeks at a time. This time around has been super difficult since I can’t visit, as I’ve been in radiation Monday through Friday for the past five weeks. But the way I see it, he’s doing what he has to do and I’m doing what I have to do. We have to keep going to survive, and for me that means literally.
What’s your favourite song of his and why?
It’s so hard to choose! It changes all the time. Right now, it’s probably ‘Weighing On Me.’ He wrote that song while I was sitting on his lap a few years ago in L.A. That’s how he came up with the lyrics: ‘She weighing on me.’ It’s just such a beautiful ballad and the lyrics are so poetic to me. I think his talent is so beautiful, authentic and original.
Is there anything you’d like to say to those who are going through the same experience as you?
PLEASE KEEP GOING. I believe that we are all where we are for a reason. It may not be clear now, but I have hope and faith that we will understand at a later point. Don’t count the days you have left; think about what you will do when you are free of your pain. Remember, there is no way to know happiness without pain, and no way we would understand pain without happiness. Life is a roller coaster and it can’t be joyful the entire time. It’s not always fair and bad things do happen to good people, but look at the bigger picture – you are not defined by your struggles. You are not alone. Never give up on yourself or your dreams. You are so much stronger, more beautiful, and more powerful than you think.
Thanks Coco, sending all the hugs and good vibes your way.