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.