Back to looking ‘normal’

Normal is a relative term.

But in this case, I think it is appropriate.

I use it because today was the final surgery in my reconstruction and for the first time in 2 years and 3 days, I have nipples.

I lost them when I had my double mastectomy and reconstruction in 2015, as for someone with Ductal carcinoma, the nipples are the biggest source of ‘ducts’.

Of course, what I have now are not ‘real’, but they look like the real thing, which is a step forward. I don’t have to feel self-conscious when changing or even dating.

One future step will include tattooing them so they are not the same colour as the skin they were made from.

It’s amazing what can be accomplished with today’s advances in medicine. Because of that, I have been able to reduce my risk of breast cancer recurrence without even going without breasts, and without any obvious sign to the outside world.

In addition to the nipple reconstruction, the surgery also included lifting and reducing the left side which was noticeably larger than the right, as well as evening out my abdomen where more tissue was taken on one side than the other to create my new breasts. The final piece was revising my abdominal scar to eliminate some ‘denting’ and removing excess skin from my pubic area that made it stick out.

Everything went really well, although overall it is a fairly painful procedure. I am resting at home, and because everything was surface (no muscle involvement) I have been told I can return to dance in about 10 days (work in 2 weeks).

It truly is the final piece in a long journey.

The other thing that was done while I was under was that the lymph node that was swollen and causing issues was removed, to kill two birds with one stone. It was decided to remove it as it wasn’t obvious why it was perpetually swollen, and this will eliminate the possibility of it become an issue in the future.

There is, of course, a lot of swelling that will take quite a few weeks to see the final results, but I am cautiously optimistic that things will all look ‘normal’ in the near future. Already, my chest is now more or less even, and my pubic area looks like it should.

Sometimes ‘normal’ is positive and possible.

Advertisements

Learning to Relax

Sounds simple, right?

I am discovering it is not so much.

One of my biggest challenges in latin right now is allowing myself to relax and let my hips move. Of course, ‘relax’ is a relative term.

I have some new latin exercises, and while I was doing one of them I noticed that I was constantly fighting against allowing my hips to move. In fact, I realized further that I wasn’t really sure when my hips were supposed to be moving and in what timing. I did a little experiment and discovered that when it comes to movements changing direction I either settled on my hip directly, or didn’t settle at all–especially going forward and back.

So now I have a new exercise specific to moving forward, back and to the side with full hip movements. I am still not sure what I am supposed to be doing when I move forward, and I am pretty sure the back movement is a little on the sketchy (meaning bent leg) side, but for now I have to just keep doing it and work against the instinct to stay rigid and controlled (meaning not move).

It’s a battle I am finding in all my latin exercises right now.

I have a new favourite step….NOT!! But I am really am trying to make it one. On my request (yep, I asked for this), I am working on voltas in samba. I am at the stage where either my body moves, or my timing is right. Both don’t happen together yet. It took me two practices just to figure out a good way to work on them, and to convince myself that doing them slowly every time is not going to help that I stop moving my body when my feet move faster.

I am almost trying too hard to make movements happen instead of relaxing and letting them happen.

But, knowing is half the battle.

One area where I am too relaxed is my eyes. I am still dropping them or not raising them at all when I work on latin. My ‘deep concentration’ mode involves staring without focus at the floor, or my feet in the mirror. There are so many layers to this issue, it is going to have to be an entire other blog post.

My one victory this week is that finally, yesterday, I was doing some of my dance exercises and I felt it! My inner thighs started working and engaging! It’s taken more than two weeks of trying and trying to get them to activate in even one exercise. And slowly the work seems to be spreading.

Lessons are going well. Slowly, we are developing exercises, and just over 15 minutes of each lesson is spent on cardio conditioning which I need both for dance and general fitness. Depending on whether it is a standard or latin day, I do 1:30 of an exercise (change steps in waltz, a sequence in samba) full out as much as I can. Then we check my pulse, and time the recovery. When it reaches ‘pre-work’ level, I do it again. Essentially, dance interval training.

With the progress I am seeing now, I hope I don’t take too much of a step back with the break following the surgery next week. It’s a fairly simple surgery, with a (relatively) short recovery and I hope to be back at it again soon. 2 more lessons before then, although I am not sure the up-coming surgery is going to help much with letting myself relax.

I think I will need to explore more in the future the barriers preventing me from fully letting go and risking performing a wrong movement.

In the end, it is about risking relaxation.

How messed up is that?

Rebuilding Strength

That has been a big focus of mine lately.

It’s not just in and for dance. Since returning to activity after my last surgery I have been able to consistently get back in the habit of regular strength training and rebuilding the strength I lost through all my treatments. It’s a little overwhelming the distance I have to go, but it gets better every day.

Having energy again is a huge difference and I feel like I have more every day.

To give an example of how much I need to rebuild, where prior to getting sick I would pull 120 lbs, now I am at 70. But I started at 60 just over two weeks ago.

I enjoy strength training. There is always a goal to aim for and you have to push for your best every time to reach a new one. I take my time and it usually clears my head during the day making me more productive at work and other activities. I work on improving endurance a lot too.

When I was on the hormone therapy I had such little energy I couldn’t do strength training. During the brief 4-month period I tried, muscle weakness meant I rarely saw increases in weight.

Since the surgery it has been so different.

Dance and strength training support each other. What I am doing in dance now actually relates a lot to the strength exercises I am doing–particularly in regards to my right foot and knee.

I am doing a lot of exercises right now to build strength around my knee and increase stability and I am finding that both dance and strength training are going hand in hand for this. One of the things I have found out (through discussions with my trainer) is that on my right side, my inner and outer thigh muscles don’t quite fire the way they are supposed to meaning that my knee collapses in and I also don’t use my glute minimus muscles to stabilize myself. That leads to my foot falling out to help support my body. It’s been something I have been doing for a long time and I have to re-teach my body to correct it.

Even then, it might not be possible to ever fully correct it but I am determined to try.

Among other things, it means paying attention to how I walk on a normal basis and being conscious of keeping my knees pulled out as I walk and not allowing them to fall in.

Something I am doing seems to be making a difference. I can tell because it’s been a pain in my ass.

Literally.

Because my glute muscles are working in a different way, I am getting some DOMS on my right side. It’s tricky for having to work at a computer at work, but since it’s a positive sign, I am ok with it. I just have to keep persistent with it. I don’t think I have quite gotten my inner thighs to start engaging, but I think it is coming.

I am doing some dance exercises to work on the inner thighs, in particular controlling closing my legs in standard. I am going to keep trying to do it.

The bottom line is finally I can feel some of my strength returning and I can see potential for returning to where I was.

I have also loss 1/3 of the weight I gained during chemo–and still counting! Creeping closer to halfway.

This is me time.

Finally.

Working out a plan

It seems things have settled.

But boy was it rocky to get there.

We have a plan.

I did go to my lesson on Wednesday, but I took some advice from the lovely Girl with the Tree Tattoo and put together my thoughts and frustrations and asked Boss for 5 minutes at the beginning of my lesson to just vent and let it all out.

It turned into a productive conversation that gave more clarity than previous conversations. One of the first things I mentioned was that I felt a little confused about what I was being told because at times it seemed contradictory. The biggest point to come out of that is that Boss is unable to support competing for at least 6 months to a year, and can’t say right now if he will return to competing or not after that.

Well, neither can I. Anything can happen in a year. I know that better than anyone. 2 weeks ago, while waiting for my biopsy result, I wasn’t sure if I would see my 40th birthday.

Life can change on a dime for all sorts of reasons.

All that to say that I know I won’t be competing with Boss for probably at least a year. After that, no one can really say what might be possible. Maybe he will be willing and able to compete, maybe he won’t.

Maybe I won’t be able to compete. You never know.

I don’t work with Boss because he was willing to be a warm body on a competition floor. While competing is one goal of mine, it is not the only one and it is not the most important one either. I work with him because he is able and willing to teach at the level I want and I can take lessons consistently throughout the week. He is also open to communicating, and does both long and short-term planning for lessons. Going to any other instructor, particularly commuting, eliminates a lot of those advantages, particularly being able to work with lessons throughout the week which is the most important thing for me.

Boss did suggest an option that I may consider in the future (for example if he is still unable to compete this time next year), but for now I don’t see it as necessary (not to mention it would be a bit costly).

After all of that, we did come to a plan that works.

I have no issues with not competing for 6 months to a year. I see it as an opportunity to work on my own technique and particularly focus on some details that require more in-depth and long term focus to sort out–things I can’t focus on while preparing to compete. In particular, trying to sort out the issue with my right foot turning out and lacking the strength to stay turned in. Other things include specific techniques in latin, CBMP in standard (I am just starting to scratch the surface on understanding that), and connection in latin.

Boss and I also discussed how I want to structure lessons for the next little while. We agreed that I would stick with 3 a week (as that’s the level I am happiest with), but two would be on things he wants to work on, but the third lesson would be directed by questions, topics that I want to work on (which I will provide to him in advance). I have already given him something for the first one.

My lessons in general will be focused more on individual conditioning and exercises for technique, although I have some routines that have details that need to be worked out. Now is an opportunity to do that. I see all the work I do now will only make my stronger in the future.

The most interesting thing about the discussion we had was that Boss told me he would like me to be more involved in my learning now as I have reached a point where I should be. It’s an interesting concept.

Finally, I had a couple ideas for evaluating progress without competing. First, as we are going to be doing some specific exercises (most from coaches), so I had the idea of filming me doing all the exercises (once we figure out what they will be), and then refilming them in 3 months to play side by side and see if there is any difference.

The second idea was that if I am not competing, then I am saving money. Something valuable I do with it that is still dance related (and cheaper than competing) is to do some coaching lessons. Already the last coach I worked with is going to be returning in February, so I have an opportunity to be able to afford more lessons with him, and Boss suggested a different coach for latin who may be possible to work with in the near-term (I have worked with her before and enjoyed it  a lot).

I am very glad and relieved to have a plan in place, for at least the next 6 months. In June, there will be a time to re-evaluate where everything is at, but until then I am happy with the plan. I have just over a week until my next surgery which will mean some brief time away from dancing. I am glad to have this sorted now.

Bitter days

I am miserable.

That’s the only way I can think to describe how I feel right now.

I made a decision, but I haven’t figured out yet how to live with it. It’s a compromise and truly the best decision for Me, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

I am very angry. I am grieving. I am depressed. I feel betrayed by the universe and like I am being punished.  I want to find a way out of this black hole and figure out a way to move forward.

But I am stuck.

The information for the next comp I was aiming for came out today…and it feels like a punch in the gut. Like the universe is laughing at me.

I don’t even know where to direct all this emotion, except at myself. There is no where else to send it. Things are what they are and I have no power to change them.

I want to be happy with my decision, but I am not there yet. I am afraid I may never get there.

I am supposed to have a lesson tomorrow, but I am afraid to go. I am afraid I won’t be able to be as strong as I need to be to get through the lesson without breaking down and everything I am holding back and trying to keep to myself coming pouring out.

I don’t know that I have the strength to continue dancing without competing.

Because that is what I had to choose.

I can’t relocate, and commuting would quickly leave me bitter and frustrated. I know myself well enough to know that.

Dancing on a regular and consistent basis spread out through the week is so important to almost all of my health and fitness goals. Trying to cram lessons into alternating weekends plus commute costs would break me mentally and physically, and make it almost impossible to afford to compete.

So that leaves continuing to work with Boss, without competing and trying to convince myself to be ok with that.

I am not. Yet. I haven’t figured out how to make it work or where to focus.

I feel like a large part of me has been ripped away and all I can do is watch it fester and rot. I don’t know how to heal it. Yet.

I feel manipulated, even though i know I wasn’t. Somehow it seems like everyone else has gotten what they wanted and I am left still trying to figure out where I fit.

My goal is to figure out a way to get back to competing without Boss or extreme commuting. Thats my impossible dream right now. I don’t even know where to begin.

My soul is aching like it’s been slapped and I am trying to tell it that everything will be ok.

I have felt like this before. I survived then, I will survive now.

Just have to figure out how.

Competitive Instructor wanted

No, unfortunately it is not a joke.

I haven’t posted much lately because I have been trying to work through a difficult situation, that is outside my control.

About a week ago, for a number of reasons personal to him, Boss told me he is no longer able to support my competitive goals.

We can still work together and I can still do lessons, but he does not know when or if he will be able to compete again, but it definitely won’t be for quite a long time.

So I am stuck. I have a fabulous instructor I work and progress well with, but with whom I can’t compete.

So what can I do?

My biggest motivation for dance is competing. It gives me something to work for. The routines I learn, I learn so I can compete. I focus on technique so my dancing can be stronger on the floor. I am so goal oriented, I don’t know how to adjust with competitions of the table.

And there aren’t any 10-dance pro/am teachers in the town where I live. My options seem to be commuting to the mainland or the US. That has financial implications, not to mention trying to cram a week’s or two week’s worth of lessons into a weekend–something my body won’t tolerate for long, especially working full-time between those weekend. Flying or having an instructor commute here would have similar difficulties.

I just don’t even know where to begin to adjust to this. Do I work with Boss and compete with another pro? That seems like another nightmare for me.

An amateur partner still remains an impossible dream.

I obviously need to switch gears, but I don’t know where to start. I either need to fix my goals, hope work decides to relocate me (not likely), or try to find a remote instructor.

I think the worst thing about commuting is that is would frustrate me very quickly and that would lead me to stop dancing in itself.

The worse thing about this is that after the biopsy was clear I felt I had finally got all my ducks in a row and could focus on dance the way I had been hoping since I got sick. I really should have known better. Nothing is ever that simple for me. I have to fight for everything.

So, if you know a possible instructor who does 10-dance and can handle a commute or commuting student, let me know. Will also welcome any alternative suggestions for goals besides competing.

I’ll just be here spinning my wheels trying to figure out if I am done dancing until I can relocate.

Reader Question–Medal Tests

I recently received a question from a reader I thought might be interesting to post:

“Have you done any medal tests in dance? I am thinking of doing them but I am not sure of the benefits.”

I have done the Canadian Dancesport Federation (CDF) tests in all 10 dances in bronze and silver.

The benefits vary and really depend what you are looking for.

The test gives both a mark (ranging from Did Not Meet to Honours) and comments from the adjudicator for each dance (usually) which can be a helpful barometer.

It also forces you to learn a majority (if not all) of the syllabus steps which is a great foundation to have. Some dancers can’t (and don’t want or see a need to) explain the difference between a telemark, turn, impetus or spin turn, or dance a specific step on their own without a partner if asked (they probably can dance the step, but don’t know the name of the steps they are dancing, or what elements are included in a step).

It also depends how your instructor wants to prepare you as well, as all instructors are different with different priorities.

The added benefit for me is that it is nationally recognized. My work is likely to transfer me at some point, so I can go to any studio and say “I have passed this level” and that helps determine where I should be starting (in theory).

It comes down to goals in the end. What do you what from your dancing? Do you want a piece of paper that says your level and to understand the syllabus of steps or does that not matter? (And both are ok-it’s your dancing!). Tests also give an external direction and feedback from someone other than your instructor, which is sometimes nice to have! When you pass, you get a certificate and pins for each level of CDF, which is a little fun :).

Keep in mind that different dance organizations have different procedures and requirements for tests. You should expect to pay a cost to take the test in addition to paying costs for the adjudicator to administer the test if one does not live in your area.

For CDF tests, the tests consisted of me dancing through a prepared routine of syllabus steps with Boss until the adjudicator told us to stop. The tests are separate for each style, and the technique expected is higher for each level.

I hope that gives an ideas of the different benefits to medal testing, although if the benefits don’t line up with your own goals they may not be useful to you. It’s an individual choice.

Happy Dancing!