My new favourite muscles

Well, more like a love/hate relationship.

It’s taken a long time and a lot of work, but over the last couples months I have finally discovered and figure out (mostly) how to isolate my upper back muscles around my shoulders.  I have been working on them for a long time, but it’s only recently I have been able to actually feel them move.

On the other hand, now that I know where they are and how to use them, I can’t ignore them anymore, and I can tell when they are not moving right.

This somehow makes things simpler and harder at the same time.

Depending on whether I am doing latin or standard, its necessary to figure out how to move them differently.  I have also been working on strengthening them during my strength training, which is also difficult as they are hard muscles to target.  As I have noticed more awareness, I have noticed though that it is becoming easier to do these exercises right.  Doing this has highlighted the strength difference between my right and left side as I work each side separately, but slowly it is starting to even out.

The progress is encouraging, but I still get frustrated sometimes when I can’t quite figure out what I am trying to do with them.  Sometimes though I move them without realizing it, and that is always a surprise.  It’s interesting how many movements in dance involve them.

On a slightly related note, I keep encountering something frustrating with the muscles/tendons on the right side of my neck.  I am not sure if it is related to my treatment, specifically the radiation (because of scar tissue), but I have noticed that after every lesson, and practice where I am stretching my neck for standard I wake up the following morning with a stiff neck that is just a little too far on side of pain for comfort. I spend the entire next day aching through my neck and unable to fully turn my head to the left.

The odd, frustrating and difficult thing is that when I am working on standard and stretching, I don’t feel anything that tells me I am overextending to the point of minor injury. It doesn’t seem to be getting worse, but it isn’t getting better either.  The thankful thing is that it rarely lasts more than the day after.  I am really not sure how to manage this, but hope that it doesn’t get worse and progress to a worse injury.  I have previously had an issue where the entire muscle seized up for a week and it is something I have no wish to repeat.

Muscles are strange things sometimes.

On a different note, I have figure out why I wasn’t feeling very well over the last couple days, and why I suddenly had a burst of energy last night.  I accidentally missed one and perhaps two of my hormone therapy medication.  I usually sort out all my medications for the week in advance, but last week I didn’t have enough of my hormone therapy because I had to pick up a refill at the pharmacy.  Once I picked up the refill, I forgot to add the missing doses to my medications for the end of the week, and didn’t notice it was missing until this morning.  What I was feeling was likely withdrawal from missing the doses, followed by the side effects lifting.

It was a brief ray of light, but also it’s a little disheartening that today I am back to feeling achy and lacking energy again as my body readjusts to the medication.  It certainly tells me that what I am feeling are indeed side effects.

But at least in the meantime I have new muscles and sensations to explore.

Confusion of a different nature…

But this one is easier to handle (and dance related!)

After the news I got today I very seriously considered cancelling dance and just going home to bed.  I am glad I decided against that in the end.  Dance helped me feel much better tonight and I even stayed to practice.

As I mentioned in one of my last posts, I am working to make a bit of a posture change to bring my shoulders over my hips instead of my butt.  It is coming, but it is still like baby steps.  After more than a week of making the adjustment, my core muscles are pretty much dead–but in a good way.

For latin, I am working to bring my weight more forward than I do in everyday life and pretty much put as much distance between my breasts and my bum as I can without falling over.  It’s almost the new stage of what I am trying to do.  Overall though, it feels more like I am remembering how to do something, rather than doing something completely different, so that’s a good sign.

All this work on latin posture and it is probably no surprise that I am finding some ‘latiness’ creeping into my standard–to the point where during my practice exercises tonight I couldn’t remember what the difference was–although I am pretty sure it has to do with tucking in my pelvis some, and pulling my head up and back.  I found myself shifting my weight back and forth and unsure where exactly my arms should be.

In my lesson tonight, we started by going over my exercises, followed by some discussion with video examples (one of the new changes).  For my exercises, it was good because it gives me some slightly different areas to focus on for most of the exercises and refreshes them a bit.  One thing I have to watch though is that I am not making my standard forward walks into cruzado walks (from samba).  There are a couple other exercises where the two are getting a little confused.

Going over videos was helpful.  It gave me an idea of what to aim for, or rather where we are trying to go for technique, at least in latin, as well as some things to think about as far as styling in latin, which is something we haven’t done a lot of focus on in the past.  I am told to expect more in the future though, so I am curious to see how that comes together.

I find the videos helpful because it gives me a bit of a grounding and basis for what I am trying to execute in my own dancing.  It’s not to say that I am looking to copy, but there are some fundamental things that apply a bit universally, and it is a good starting point.  It helps bring it all together for me and gets my mind processing.

Practice tonight was good, but a little frustrating–not because of the dancing but because of my music.  I switched computers about two weeks ago and had to develop a new itunes playlist for practice.  Tonight was the first time I was using it for exercises and I discovered I forgot to add a cha cha for my lock steps, and the waltz is the wrong one (has a long beginning, which doesn’t work for 1:30 intervals).  Easy to fix, but frustrating tonight as I kept clicking through songs trying to find the cha cha I was sure should be there.

As far as the exercises, with the changes from the lesson they are all a bit of a mess right now, but at the same time some of them feel a little more solid.  As the changes are completely new, I don’t expect them to really have things fall apart until Monday’s practice, but that is all part of how it works.  About 2 weeks of things changing before they settle into something consistent I can build on.

Last night’s latin class was a real challenge.  About 4 pm yesterday I was hit with a wave of exhaustion to the point I thought I would have to cancel my lesson as I suddenly felt weak all over.  I rested some after work and that recovered me a little, but once I got to my lesson the feeling of weakness stayed–my arms felt like lead when I lifted them for standard and my legs refused to move when I wanted them to in latin. I had to stop and rest some in the class and I was feeling really nauseous the entire time.

It was probably a sign from my body that it needed a break, but I did let myself take it easy during the class and rest when things started to fail me.  I did manage to do the entire class in my 2.5 inch practice shoes, which was enough of a challenge in itself.  The change in height of course affected my balance and posture and I couldn’t quite ‘settle’ into everything I was doing.  I take that as a sign that I need to start working more in the higher shoes to build the right strength.

Despite the strange weakness last night, I felt better tonight although the nausea seems determined to hang around.  I am not quite sure why all of a sudden it’s such an issue, but my guess is the usual suspect–hormone fluctuations.

A lot of stuff going round in my head, but at least on the dance front it seems to be positive.  We did the tango and foxtrot sequences in my lesson yesterday and while I am not quite ready to write them out on my own, at least part of them seem to be sticking.  The rumba is the most consistent for me, and other than small hiccups here and there the only step I consistently blank on is the reverse top.  I could be just blocking it out though 🙂 Its a challenging step I don’t quite understand yet.

Next week looks to be less busy at work, so I am hoping that will help overall.  I figure from this point, my body will do either one of two things–it will adapt to the activity level I have built up to, and my energy will increase, or I will just become exhausted and my system will crash again.

Hoping for the first one.

Mixed Messages

I am so frustrated right now.

Not about dance, about the medical world.  I just got a call from the scheduler for my hysterectomy and she told me they were currently booking for October.

OCTOBER!

Completely different from the End June timeframe the doctor told me 2 weeks ago.  At least when I explained that, and what I had been told by the doctor, the scheduler agreed to go back to the doctor to see if I should be moved up on the priority list.  Unfortunately, she won’t be able to get back to me with an answer until next week, so I have to spend all weekend wondering if I will have to stay on this medication and keep trying to hold the pieces of my life together until October.

I was having a hard enough time just dealing with having to make it until the end of June, and more likely July.  October is 6 months away.  The doc told me her goal was that I would only have one more injection of the ovarian suppression, and October doesn’t fit with that, I would need 2 more, possibly 3 depending on what part of October we are talking about.

I am trying to remain calm about it, but I am not really succeeding.  At least at home I have some medication to help deal with it.

The only ‘up’ side I can see to October is that I will be able to have my reconstruction revision in July, since the date I was given in June didn’t work.  It’s a very small upside.

I really just want to get both of these surgeries out of the way, so I don’t have to think about them any more, and they can stop interrupting my life.  I feel like my entire life is being scheduled around surgeries right now and until they are done I am just in a holding pattern where nothing I do now will ‘stick’.  I was also told minimum 6-8 weeks off for the hysterectomy, not 4-6.

I keep trying to move forward with my life and feel like I am being constantly knocked back.

Not a great start to the weekend.

Pushing through the Changes

First, nothing ruins a Thursday more than realizing it’s a Wednesday.

It’s been that kind of a week.

That aside, there have been some high points to the week, and it seems that the medication I on (rather medications) are continuing to have a positive effect.

On the health front, it was a bit of a difficult week. As I am still continuing to experience a lack of energy and some other side effects, the docs are doing some testing to make sure that they ARE side effects, and not symptoms of something else (thyroid is the main suspect–which runs in my family).  I met with the oncologist, and as far as cancer prevention, he is happy with where I am at with the hormone therapy, and hopes I am able to get my surgery soon as he believes that will help with the side effects.

I had a bit of an anxious couple of days.  Since the weekend, I had been feeling a lot of tenderness in my right armpit, and as I was trying to figure out where exactly it was, I felt a very tender lump.  Considering my history, any tender lump on my right side is cause for anxiety.  I was able to get it checked out, and it appears that I have a swollen lymph node which is likely a sign I am fighting a bit of an infection.  I was told that the fact that it was tender was a positive thing as a cancerous lump would not be.  Just to be sure, I will have an ultrasound to have a look, but it does already seem to be feeling less sore. It’s a load off.

Now I just wait for blood work and keep doing what I am doing.

So, what am I doing?

The posture change continues.  I can feel it starting to take more solid hold, although I had a couple of days where my back was killing me–a sign that I was indeed making changes enough to irritate it.  It has started to settle down as this becomes the ‘new normal’ and I am pleased with how easy it is getting.  Still have to stay on top of it, but it is coming.

Another change I am making is to my practice, and this is almost proving a little bit harder.  It’s easy to fall into old habits of drilling and following the structure I am used to and comfortable with.  This week though, I set the changes and have been making myself stick to them.

I am only doing the set drill intervals on Monday and Friday, and only 1 set of each standard and latin, the rest of that practice time is reviewing things from my lessons.  Wednesday, there is no drilling. I am trying to use Wednesday to dig into things I want to dig into from my lessons and work through to figure out.  It’s a ‘supervised’ open practice meaning there are other dancers around doing their own thing and Boss is in the hall for anyone who has questions.  I have given myself permission to ask if I get stuck.

I wasn’t really sure what to do tonight, which is what made it a challenge, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to fill the time.  There were a list of things I wanted to go through, so I just started with that and let it go from there. Top of the list was working through the sequence of my rumba routine on my own and figuring out the steps.  I had to ask about the footwork in one step, but I was able to go through it top to bottom a few times tonight, so it is getting pretty grounded in my head, and I have a pretty good idea where the uncertainties are.

I also worked through some of the waltz sequence we have been doing in lessons.  I wanted to see how it went on my own, but I also needed to test my own limits a bit to see what I can control and where I can push myself a little.  There are a couple places that are driving me a little crazy (particularly the transition from spin turn to turning locks), but it is slowly coming.

Finally, one of the other changes I am trying to get into my body is to keep my right foot straight in standard (which for me feels twisted in).  I needed to get a better idea of how much I have to twist it in to keep it straight, which I seem to have been able to figure out.  It’s a challenge in itself as I have to try to apply it across all the moves I make with my right foot–whether a side step, forward or back–and it’s still pretty ‘foreign’ feeling.  In Waltz in particular I find lock steps almost impossible as it truly feels like one foot is facing the wall and the other is facing line of dance.  I am hoping it will get better the more I work at it and perhaps it will force some physical changes in how that foot and knee turns out. Tango seems to be the best dance for working through that (as I can check my foot alignment when I do a close).

I have made some small changes to my schedule in general, which I hope will make things more manageable on my body.  I have moved strength training to Sat, Mon, Wed, and kept dance MWF (with Latin technique on Thursday).  I am hoping by spreading things out a bit more at the end of the week, it will help distribute my energy a bit better and keep me from getting exhausted.

The only other thing that is on my mind is that I still don’t have a date for my hysterectomy.  I was called today and offered a date for the revisions and reconstruction still needed from the mastectomies and reconstruction, but it was for mid-June and I really don’t know how close together the two surgeries can be.  I also am tied up with work until at least June 22, so all surgeries need to be after then.  They are looking at doing the reconstruction work in July now, but again, it depends on the other surgery.  If I don’t hear about a date tomorrow I plan to call as pretty much my entire life has to be scheduled around the hysterectomy and its recovery.

Until then, I will just keep working through the changes.

Posture changes

Yes, a dance post!

Thank you for your patience as I have been trying to navigate the on-going recovery and legacy from the cancer.

Just prior to everything falling apart, I had a coaching lesson with a female coach that focused on latin–specifically rumba.  Within that lesson, one of the things she emphasized was that I tend to be ‘back weighted’ and lead from my centre core with it sticking out.

Last week, I was going through exercises with the rehab specialist and she made a similar observation–that I have a tendency to stand with my upper body pulled back so that my shoulders are almost hyper-extended back, and I am not engaging my centre core muscles.

Simply put, I have a habit of standing with my shoulders over my butt, instead of lined up over my hips.  It’s a subtle difference, but it requires a lot of work and discipline to change.

It’s more than standing with my shoulders forward.  It’s bringing them forward while pulling my centre core (the area between the belly button and chest) back by engaging it.  This moves the weight of my upper body from sitting on top of the back of my heels to more centred over the foot.

If you want to try the difference–stand and think of pulling your shoulders back and down and allowing your centre core to move forward.  Then, engage your core and pull it back and see the difference it makes in your shoulder position.

For the ladies, by moving the shoulders over the hips, it moves the chest (and those parts protruding from it) in front of the body.

I may have developed this way of standing after my surgery.  So much changed in the composition of my body, I likely developed ways to compensate.  It’s been an interesting revelation.  That said, I really don’t know for sure if this is new or not.

One of my first lessons back was focused on working to make this change and incorporate it into my latin dancing.  We took one step from my rumba routine and worked on doing it with this change in posture.  My entire balance is different.  I also have to remember how to breathe while my core is engaged, and I have to work to not over engage my glutes to allow for hip movement.

It’s going to take time, but it’s not the first time I have worked to change my posture.  It takes a lot of discipline, but it also takes consistency outside of dance.  So, whenever I move or stand, where ever I am, I constantly check myself–is my core engaged? Is my chest forward?  Are my glutes back and relaxed?

Essentially, I am working to develop a new habit and with it new muscle memory.  Habit take almost 3 weeks to develop, and I know this is going to take a lot of persistence to get there.  I hope to be at a point where it is well ingrained before my next surgery, as I think dance advantages aside, it will help with strengthening my core and recovery.

The interesting thing is that it is a position which makes me much more aware not only of my core muscles, but also of the muscles in my back and shoulders.  They are stretching forward when I make this adjustment and that is a new sensation for me.

Applying it universally through dance is going to be the biggest challenge.  On top of how I stand normally, one of the challenges of this is to not be constantly on my toes (essentially meaning that my upper body is too far forward and likely my hips as well).  When you add heels to the mix…well, I guess we will see.  Already I have remembered that one of the biggest difference between 2 inch and 2.5 inch heels is how my posture shifts with the height difference.  To help work the two pieces together, I am going to start wearing my 2.5 inch practice shoes during the latin technique group class I attend.

Another change I am trying to make that I am less optimistic about is working to turn my right knee and foot in straight in standard, as opposed to their natural inclination to turn out.  This shows a lot in tango–especially when I bring my feet together.  More often than not, my heels are together, but my toes are not, with my right toes turned out.

I will talk more on that next time.  For now, it’s all posture, all the time.

Good to be back.

The Return and End of Smooth

Stopping dance proved to be disastrous for my health.

The day after I decided to stop, I had a complete breakdown and ended up at the ER.  I didn’t think it was possible to get worse than I was, but believe me, it was much much worse.  With everything else, the medication I was on gave me violent mood swings as levels of brain chemicals went up and down until a stable level was achieved.

It was the longest and most difficult 3 weeks of my life.  I really thought I might die, and to be honest, I wished the cancer had killed me.  It was a very very dark time.  On top of everything else, stopping dance actually made the grief I am going through over losing my fertility even more poignant, because I felt as though I had absolutely nothing left to hold on to. I had created a giant hole in my life that I could no longer fill and the little bit of joy and meaning I had in my life disappeared.

But somehow I got through it.  It took a lot of talk with mental health experts, time for medication to kick in and dose adjustments, and a complete reevaluation of my life and dance.

On top of the medical staff, I also (with their encouragement) talked with other dancers in the community (pro/am and amateur), non-dancers and Boss.  I took more than a week to go through and write out all of my thoughts on dance–what was important to me, what I wanted to do with dance, what I felt was missing, what needed to change, and where dance fit into my life–or where I wanted it to fit.  I wrote because that was the best way to express myself and let it all out.  It took me a week and was more than 10 pages, but it helped me find a place for dance in my life–even pro/am.

It took a while, because my energy levels have been quite non-existent and it took some lessons of just talking things through with Boss before I was ready to come back, and we were able to agree on changes that worked for both of us, and hopefully will help to address the issues I was struggling with.

There will be two significant changes to the structure of my lessons.  First, one lesson a week will be devoted to working on showcase/performance routines.  This is to give me an opportunity to be creative and collaborative in dance, something I was missing a lot.  Second, half a lesson every other week will be spent on ‘dance appreciation’.  Time to discuss dance, look at videos of different levels and styles, and develop my ability to think critically about dance and recognize various aspects of it.

My practice is changing as well.  I will still do some drilling, but it will not be the sole focus on my practice, it will be about 2/3rd of it.  The rest of the time will be spent on working through steps and routines as I want to.  The goal of that is to mix time spent drilling, which is more meditative, repetitive, and not requiring a lot of thought, with other aspects of dance that require me to ‘figure out’ and think through what I am working on.

I am also scaling back everything I am doing.  I will be focusing only on international style, and full gold routines for competing.  I will not be competing in smooth anymore.  Boss had wanted to turn the smooth routines into showcase routines, but to me it would be rubbing salt in the wound to work on the routines, but not be able to compete them.

And so ends smooth for me.

It is yet another casualty to cancer.  In all honesty, it hurts a lot, but at the same time I am grateful to still have some way to dance.  My relationships have also taken a huge loss and been damaged through the difficulties of the last month and I do fear they may never really mend.

I saw the surgeon and my hysterectomy will be likely end June/early July.  It will be 4-6 weeks of recovery off of dance and work.  It will be another slow and careful recovery.  The small silver lining is that with a little luck (and I am definitely due!) it will alleviate many of the symptoms from the hormone therapy as I will no longer need ovarian suppression and my hormone levels should fluctuate less allowing my mental health to stabilize.

In the meantime, I wait for a solid date for my surgery and attempt to hold my life together as best I can until then.  Every day is still a struggle, but the past week has seen me become a bit stronger and able to return to strength training.  This week allowed me to return to dance.

I am scared that everything will fall apart again before all of this is finished.  It’s taking a lot to control the depression and anxiety, and I am still in constant pain.  The hot flashes are happening in cycles indicating my ovaries are not as suppressed as they should be.  I have to have another shot in May, but the surgeon told me her goal is for it to be the last one. I truly hope so.

I am taking things one day at a time and trying to live my life as best I can.  I am so far able to work and keep up with it.  Strength training makes me feel better, not drained or exhausted and I am seeing genuine improvement in strength for the first time in almost a year.  In the middle of everything, I managed to finish the first 3 courses of my Masters, and am now working on my 4th.  So far, my lessons have been positive and also leave me feeling better than when I arrived.

I have slowly returned to myself and hope to maintain it.  I have lost much in the last month and I continue to grieve for my fertility–something I expect will continue until after the surgery when it is truly gone.  Things are rocky, difficult, but manageable.

At least for now.

I am back.

Another Surgery….

I have been quiet while having to deal with some health issues related to the hormone therapy.

I found out today that I will be having a total hysterectomy end June/early July.  The sincere hope is that once my ovaries are gone, my hormones will settle down and I can get back to feeling like myself again.

In the meantime, the hormone therapy has more or less crashed my entire system.  Because stopping the hormone therapy is not an option (the shot lasts until May), I have had to be treated with medication for the side effects.  Almost 4 weeks later, I seem to be finally starting to get to a functional point.

I say functional.  The psychiatrist who is treating me calls it ‘presenteeism’–it’s one step up from absenteeism.  Instead of being absent from my life, I am there, just not really participating.

To be perfectly honest, I have never felt worse in my life–including during chemo, radiation, and after surgery.  And I feel helpless to do anything about it, I can only manage it.

Slowly, the mental health issues are improving, but unfortunately the physical ones are not.  I am exhausted.  I am ready for bed at 6 pm after a full day of work.  It takes almost 12 hours for me to feel refreshed.  When I am awake, my energy is fairly fleeting.  It has improved a little in the last week (likely due to the medication), but it is still very restrictive.  I also ache all over.  If you have ever had aches from a fever, that is what I feel like all the time.  That in itself is exhausting.  Usually by 2 pm I have to take some ibuprofen to take the edge off.  I also have frequent headaches and right now the hot flashes are fairly frequent.

At least now, I have a general time frame to aim for when things might get better.  I say might because there is no way to know how my body will respond to surgical menopause versus chemical menopause, but there is a good chance that without my ovaries causing fluctuating hormone levels, things will stabilize and be more controllable.

This also makes very real for me something I have been avoiding–I will never have children.  It was highly unlikely before, but this makes it an absolute ‘no’. In many ways I am grieving for the children I will never have, and I have to acknowledge and give myself time to do that.

To be perfectly honest, I am not really sure if I ever would have had children or if it was something I wanted to do, but I took comfort in having the option. There is a lot more to that, but there are some things I need to keep to myself :).

I do have some dance news.

After I decided to stop dancing, I did go and advertise for a partner in the area where I live.  The response, I am sad to say was two offers for sex and one guy who was genuinely interested in dance, but who also was looking more for a relationship.  It was disappointing, but not really more than I expected, to be honest.

I had a fairly significant breakdown shortly after making my decision.

As part of that, I spent a lot of time discussing dance and what it means to me with my health care professionals.  They encouraged me to reevaluate and to talk to another dancer in the community.  They also pointed out that since my system was so depressed, no matter how much I might want to, I would never be able to see the good side to dance, only the bad.

It took a lot of talk, both with an amateur dancer who has also had breast cancer and previously danced pro/am herself when her partner was unwell, and talking with Boss, in addition to the health care professionals.

In the end, I decided to start writing.  I wrote about what led me to dance, what I enjoy about it, what I want from it, where I am, where I want to be, what I think of pro/am, how I want to learn–in short, 10 pages about dance, going through everything.

It was the most comprehensive evaluation of dance I have ever done, and it occurred to me that throughout my sickness I have had to reevaluate almost every area of my life–but I have never reevaluated dance.

It was long overdue, and it revealed a lot about what I really want and it is quite different from what I was doing and the direction I was going.

I don’t want to say more on that for now, but the evaluation is on-going.

One of the biggest obstacles I am encountering right now is actually the lack of energy, but I hope it will get better.

We shall see.  But now I seem to have something of a timeline for when this nightmare might end.

And so I fight on…