There are days…

It seems like things are just a little rough for me lately.

I had a fluke thing happen last night, and it means a little more time not dancing and more time healing. I had to cancel my lesson tonight, although I should be able to dance some the rest of the week, although with limitations.

Last night, while I was sleeping, I rolled over and felt a quick pinch over my right hip where one of my scars was from my last incision. I didn’t think anything of it at the time (I was mostly asleep), but woke up this morning to find blood on the sheets and a 2 inch opening in my hip where my scar had healed.

I was thankfully able to meet my surgeon later in the day at the hospital and he had to stitch the wound back together. He told me that he could see where a deep internal stitch had ‘popped’ and it put strain on all the tissue above it, hence the opening. Sometimes something like that just randomly happens and there is nothing I did or didn’t do to cause it or could have avoided it.

At least I only have to cancel one lesson (the surgeon gave his blessing to continue on Wednesday), but it still is just ‘one more thing’. I recognize that 2-3 weeks post surgery usually has a bit of a depressed period before the body rallies but I can’t help but feel there just seems to be an on-going barrage of obstacles between me and dance.

There are days I feel like the universe is trying to tell me that now is just not the right time for me to dance. That I am facing these constant obstacles because I am trying to force something that is just not meant to be at this point in my life.

These are days where I feel as though dance should not have to be this hard. I don’t mean the physical work, but the other obstacles–dancing through cancer, multiple surgeries, financial obstacles, difficulty finding a partner (even a paid one) for competing.  As soon as I overcome one obstacle another seems to immediately pop up, not giving me even the slightest break.

We all have our struggles with dance, and I don’t believe it is easy for anyone. My main hope is that days like these will remain few and far between and that I will continue to find ways to overcome the obstacles in front of me one step at a time.

Perhaps one day things will come together for me in a fortuitous way and I will have a “golden age” of dancing where I can truly explore and experience that I wish without constant blocks.

In the meantime, the obstacles I face do show me how much I want to dance, and for that I can at least be grateful. But there is a limit to what I can tolerate and how much I can keep fighting to do what I love and when I have days like these I realize I am in danger of reaching my limit for that tolerance. I hope I don’t get pushed over the edge anytime in the future.

But, there are days…

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An off week

I am back to dancing this week.

That said, while the week started strongly, yesterday and today (although less today) I was just off. I can’t even really describe why.

Yesterday, I did a little bit of practice to try and get my body back into the habit of moving again and almost from the beginning it just didn’t feel right. My entire body felt like it weighed twice what it does and getting any part of it to move too far too much effort.

It was disappointing because Monday I had energy and a good return. Even Boss commented on my strength of movement being unexpected. We covered a lot in that lesson including a lot of detailed work on the silver tango sequence. We even ended with normal HIIT conditioning using change steps.

Wednesday’s lesson just was off. I felt like I had a headache, but didn’t, that I was dizzy, but not quite, and had some vertigo. I also had some very intense hot flashes to the point I had to separate from Boss and wait for them to pass. We went over the new foxtrot open routine and filmed Boss’s part. After that, we reviewed the silver foxtrot sequence.

Because of how I was feeling, we didn’t do the conditioning last night and ended with the foxtrot.

Tonight was also a bit low key, but still productive. We reviewed the open routines for Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot and I wrote them down so I have them and can start preparing to learn them. We had a good conversation about my thoughts while I was healing and finished with the samba HIIT conditioning exercise. Beginning in January, we will start progressing the conditioning as I seem to have stabilized with what we are doing now, so it is time to start reducing the rest time between intervals.

Despite my lessons being less intense this week, there was a lot of productivity. I think what I was feeling yesterday and today are just the usual 2-week post surgery slump that tends to happen. I am confident I will strengthen as I work through next week and continue to recover.

One small disappointment from this week is that on Monday I discovered I cannot dance in contact until my chest finishes healing. The friction (which I cannot feel) causes the delicate incisions on the reconstruction to open and bleed. I have to be careful sleeping not to cause damage. I am hopeful that it will finish healing by January, but it is hard to say as it is a difficult place to heal.

Until then, I will need to work on my own or out of body contact (or in latin). There are certainly no lack of options.

A good week back, even if I feel like I am off.

Catching up and letting go of the dance control freak

I call this ‘catching up’ because I think these are some thought processes that needed to happen back in September after my last surgery.  I think Boss already reached these conclusions (and been telling me these things), but I just haven’t really had time until now to figure them out for myself (which is needed).

The surgery in July triggered a huge change for me generally. I can’t really explain the full extent of the difference, except that now I can fully live through my days instead of just doing the minimum. The same applies to dance. Prior to the surgery I was in a place where I had to pick and choose what I could do and focus on and what I could do was very limited. Even when I was trying to push hard, everything was less than I expected and underwhelming. I wanted to work hard but couldn’t and was trying to adjust to that. I look at the videos from my silver test and I see a dancer who is exhausted and trying not to show it who doesn’t really reach the limits of anything due to lack of energy.

The return after surgery was bigger than I could even process. I suddenly had all this energy and range of things I could do that previously just wouldn’t work. Even speed was eluding me as I found myself moving faster than I intended. I felt like I was handed all these gifts and I couldn’t figure out which ones to open, and when I did I couldn’t figure out exactly what to do with them. I still haven’t figured it out.

At the time, not sorting through things was ok because I had routines to learn to get ready for a competition which gave me something easy I could focus on and really I was just continuing the work I had been doing in standard, and of course conditioning was very much (and still is) needed.

Before and after the competition, I had coaching from 3 amazing coaches to process, all of which opened up the door of possibilities a lot wider than I expected or perhaps was ready for. All of the lessons showed me I am capable of doing much more than I thought I could do.

One of the things that seems to be a recurring theme for me is that I have become far too cautious. There was a time for that, but it is now over. I can push to my limits again, but I haven’t figured out how to do that or how to be comfortable doing that again.

It’s been a theme in my lessons and I recognize that, but until now I haven’t really been able to figure out what that means for me and how to turn it from a weakness to a strength. I haven’t been able to figure out how to frame it so doing it is no longer feels like a mistake. In short, I haven’t quite figured out yet how to give myself permission to fully explore my limits all the time.

That is the main thing I have been using this time to figure out. If I don’t have the right mind-set and approach it’s not going to work.

It’s been a long time since the work I have been doing in dance has ‘scared’ me. I have been doing a lot of safe and controlled things. Even working on my own, I spend so much time doing things slowly and ‘perfectly’ that a lot of them I never try at proper speed (because you can’t control as much as you can slowly). I have become a dance control freak, and at some point I allowed myself to become afraid of taking risks and being scared. It wasn’t that way when I first started dancing.

I recognize that in some ways, it’s not all a bad thing. There are some things that need that control. But the problem is that I am trying to control everything and it is keeping me from stretching myself. I have become too comfortable in my ‘comfort zone’.

So, I have fully come to the realization (and there were seeds before) that I need to start pushing myself outside my comfort zone on a regular basis to move forward. The biggest obstacle holding me back right now is myself.

I don’t know what I am capable of anymore. I don’t even fully have faith in what others are telling me I am capable of now.

All of this is to say that I have arrived. I have at least begun to understand what needs to be done to work towards new goals. It’s a combination of faith, trial and error, not holding back and facing (again) my fear of failure that tends to paralyze me at the last minute. Instead of asking myself how can I do this perfectly, I need to be asking myself how can I do this more, where are the limits of this.

That’s not to say it’s going to be rainbows and puppies from now on. It’s a big change of mind-set and that takes time, a lot of doing by trying, and a lot of asking myself if I could be doing more.

It also means being more willing to let mistakes happen like losing balance and more trust in myself and Boss. It also means letting go of always wanting to do slow and perfect practice and making sure that anything I do slow, I also do at speed (which is not a regular habit now).

The seeds are sewn and starting to branch out and percolate. I have a week before I can return to dance after the most recent surgery, but I am starting to get restless, so it’s a good sign. It’s also been more than a week since I have had to take my insomnia medication and my sleep continues to improve. I am also only needing strong pain medication at night and should be able to stop even that by the end of the week.

I am healing, both physically and I am catching up on the mental healing that began after my last surgery in July. There is nothing except time in front of me to stretch myself and reach those limits I have been shying away from.

Time to let go of the dance control freak.

Recovery insight

I am recovering…again.

It started off pretty rough this time. I felt fairly good the day of the surgery, but the next day I got hit with what I can only assume was a stomach virus I picked up before the surgery. I have never been so sick and couldn’t keep anything in for more than 24-hours.

Thankfully it passed in 24-hours and I was able to get some food into me and really start healing. The highlight of my week was a brief shower on Friday and getting an idea of some of the results.

I am still very swollen, but already, aside from the obvious reconstructed body parts, I can tell that the revisions the surgeon did were all successful. The curves at my waist match again, instead of one side being curvy and the other flat. The ‘Dog Ears’ that were sitting on my hips have been removed, and he was able to adjust my belly scar in a way that has eliminated most of the dents I had and a lot of excess skin underneath it. I can’t be sure yet, but I think that revision has also released a lot of the tightness and pulling I had been feeling in my belly when moving and working out. Finally, both sides of my chest are now more or less the same size (one was twice the size of the other).

I have a lot of stitches which will come out a week Monday and a lot of bruising, which is expected, but today is the first day I am going without bandages. Tomorrow, I get to have a ‘real’ shower where I can fully wash the incision sites. I can’t wait!

This surgery is surprisingly painful to recover from, likely because of the bruising. It makes it a little difficult to sleep as it hurts to lie on either hip (which is my habit) so I have to sleep on my back. That said, I am slowly exchanging stronger pain meds for ibuprofen.

I have also used this time to score another small victory. I haven’t taken my insomnia medication since the surgery, and as each night goes by, I am sleeping better and longer as my body adjusts away from it. It made sense to do it now as the drowsy properties of the pain meds would help me sleep and I don’t have dance or work. It’s a positive sign that as I reduce pain meds at night I am sleeping better and I hope it continues. It’s been my goal to return to the level of medication I was at prior to my diagnosis for some time and that is the final step.

As is normal, as I heal and recover I have had some time to do a bit of thinking. I could tell my brain was sitting on the edge of wanting to do this prior to the surgery, but I told it to just wait knowing there would be time after.

My mind is still a little cloudy from pain meds, but I can tell that this recovery is going to involve some general thinking about dance and some re-evaluation of short-term goals–something I haven’t done in a while–at least not with any depth. I don’t see any huge changes coming, but I think it will be more of an adjustment of my thinking to better support the things Boss would like to see. Among other things, the biggest thing is a switch from a very cautious and controlled approach to my dance to one that takes a little more risks and explores the limits of what I can do, instead of the limits of what I think I can control.

There is more thinking to come on that and I haven’t quite worked it out in full, but it is coming and I am sure as I can think more clearly it will come clear as well.

I will write again soon, but wanted to give an update. Lots of positive things happening!

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.

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.