I did it!!

Got through the performance tonight–only had one ‘rough’ spot!

There is a place where I do a spin into squat and my legs almost gave out on me, but I pulled it together and managed to stand and continue with the routine.  A big part of me can’t believe I actually did it, and I was able to reach my goal of posting something tangible for my family who are far away to see I am really doing ok.

I did do a statement in the end, and several people came up to me after to thank me for sharing this piece of my journey.  In the end, this is what I said:

“As some of you know, in October 2014, I found a lump in my breast that turned out to be not ‘just a cyst’ but one of several breast cancer tumours. In January 2015, I began chemotherapy and I have now completed 13 of 16 treatments—all while continuing to dance. Tonight is for all those who have survived any form of cancer and for all those still fighting their fight. I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank and acknowledge ‘Boss’—whose patience, instruction and support have really made it possible for me to keep dancing. It is not easy teaching a student to dance who has cancer, especially a pro/am student, and that deserves special recognition. I also want to take a moment to thank you—the dancers here—because your support has helped to keep me dancing as well, and I know I wouldn’t be doing so well or be so positive if I couldn’t. So thank you very much, and I hope you are enjoying yourself tonight. This is to show that with faith, patience and determination, it really is possible to do anything you put your mind to.”

When I got home, I discovered one of the people who watched also recorded the performance and shared on facebook dedicating it to those fighting cancer.  I didn’t expect that at all, and am a little wowed that what I did had such an impact.

I am now ready to finish chemo and move on to the next phase of treatment–I have proven to myself I CAN do what I put my mind to.


Touching the ‘Boss’

All relationships are unique, and as such so are all pro/am student-instructor relationships.  Mine is no different.  I think all pro/am relationships are tricky, and I think it is mostly luck that some of us are able to find an instructor that is able to work with our learning style, support us as partners, and has a compatible personality.

I am very lucky.

I started working with my instructor 2 1/2 years ago first at a franchise studio, then from a year ago with him on his own.  It’s been a tricky two years and we have had definite ‘ups’ and equally strong ‘downs’.  Twice I seriously considered switching to a different instructor.  Both times after looking at the options I decided to try to work out the issues to stay where I was.  So far, so good.

I am going to try to describe our relationship, but please keep in mind, this is my perspective as the student, and that doesn’t mean it matches with my instructor’s perspective.  He may see our relationship completely differently, and may not even realize that I see things as I describe them.

If I were to sum up our relationship in a word, I would choose ‘clinical’.

It might seem like a strange word, but I do see my relationship with my instructor as being similar (with some very marked differences) to that I have with my doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, fitness trainer–pretty much any professional for whom it is appropriate to touch me, and discuss details of my body.

There is one very big difference, and this is where I struggle the most.  Dancing pro/am involves not only my instructor touching me to correct me or move me to the correct position, but also means we dance together as a partnership–so there are times when I also have to touch him.  Indeed, in standard closed position, we maintain contact from chest to thighs in every dance. Do do that with my doctor or physiotherapist.

We also (at least I am working on) make and maintain eye contact while we are touching–also not part of the normal ‘clinical’ relationship.

So those are two marked differences which I struggle with, and it wasn’t until we started working on connection and eye contact lately that I began to understand why.

You see, while I have no issues with my instructor touching me, I don’t feel comfortable touching him.  I feel like he gives me very specific directions on where to touch and when and I find myself often worried I might do something wrong and go outside those boundaries, so even when I have ‘permission’ I am very…tentative.  I don’t want to…well accidentally grope him for lack of better words.  I think we would both know it was an accident, but I don’t even want to risk that.

I think part of the problem is that we have never really talked about it.  I think when we do routines, or he tells me to place my hands here or there, he just assumes I am comfortable with it. In reality, I feel like I should apologize after every time I have to touch him.  I think it actually surprises him a little when he does realize that I am concerned I might offend him, but we don’t ever discuss it.

I need to take a moment to do a shout out here.  I have been following ‘Beautiful Girl in the Ballroom’ for quite some time, and it always amazes me how Stef’s dance life and what she posts seems to always marry up with issues I am struggling with at the same time.  In this post unsung-hero, Stef talks about enjoying Ivan’s body.  When I first read it, I didn’t quite get what she was talking about, but now, with the work I have done in the past two weeks, I completely do.

One things I enjoy about reading Stef’s posts is how open Ivan is…to well everything.  For myself, it would be very overwhelming to work with someone like Ivan but based on Stef’s posts he is about the opposite of my instructor.  But it did get me thinking and realizing that perhaps things are a little too closed for us.

Getting back to my relationship with my instructor, I have mentioned I am a pretty closed person generally.  Although I am not sure if ‘closed’ is the right word.  Conservative maybe? Uptight? I think all would work, to be honest.  It’s very rarely that I allow myself to relax, even though I may enjoy myself very much.  My lessons are and I expect them to be very structured and ‘down to business’.  There is a lot of work to do in lessons and I want to make sure it gets done, and my instructor is very similar in that way–very professional, and down to business. Clearly, it works for us.

But also, clearly there is an aspect to dance that is missing from regular lessons.  I notice it myself mostly in latin  because it is not as restrictive as standard–where we have to stay in hold and I am mostly looking away to the left.  In latin, there are all sorts of holds and moments where ‘extra’ touching is necessary, and eye contact is also needed.

One of the reasons this is so on my radar, besides the recent work we did on the open cha cha is because coming up soon in the overall lesson plan is doing ‘detailing’ of my competitive latin routines.  We have all the routines and have competed with them twice now (although some were modified slightly from the first time to the second), but we haven’t had a chance to work on the detailing (which is what we call the combination of styling, arms, eye contact, performance etc.).  Right now, they are a series of very technical steps we do together.  We need to add the ingredients to make them full dances.

And that means more eye-contact, more touching, more openness.  More fear, terror, and chances I might accidentally do something inappropriate.

But on the other hand, that is what makes the routines more fun, playful, flirty full of character and such a joy to perform. That’s that second challenge I gave myself when I decided to start dance, so time to just take a deep breath and jump.

First step will be to get passed feeling like I have to apologize whenever I touch–even if it is completely a part of the routine.  That means talking to my instructor, who, for simplicity (and taking a page from Diagonal Wall), I am just going to call ‘boss’ from now on.  When it comes to my dancing, he is the ‘boss’, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wish me luck tomorrow for my performance!

Bad news….and a silver lining?

Today has been an emotional day for me.

In the end, I won’t have a chemo treatment this week, but will continue next week with my final 3 treatments, meaning I won’t finish chemotherapy until July 17th and all my proceeding treatments will also be delayed by a week (I have radiation and another surgery to go).

The side effects reached a point of intolerance, although it turns out my side effects are not so much from the chemo drug as from the steroids they give me to counter the side effects of the chemo drug.  Bit of irony there.  It turns out I am hyper-sensitive to the steroids.  So July 3rd we will continue  with chemo with a very tiny dose of steroids.  Less steroid unfortunately means I will probably have more side effects from the chemo drug but they are more manageable than the insomnia, weight gain (I gained 10 lbs in 3 weeks–yikes!), stomach issues, and muscle weakness the steroids seem to be causing, insomnia being the biggest one.  Chemo makes you tired as it is–you don’t need steroids making it impossible to sleep on top of it.  I have a week of rest ahead of me, and this is the second time I have had a delay (the first time I had a bad chest infection that landed me in the hospital).  24 weeks are now 26.

But there is a small silver lining, if you can call it that.

Because I am not having a treatment tomorrow, I am guaranteed to be strong enough to do the performance of the open cha cha on Saturday.  I will only get stronger from here until my next treatment on July 3rd.

I had a great lesson tonight.  The ending we worked on yesterday managed to gel overnight and tonight we were able to run through the routine from top to bottom 5 times (no idea where I got the energy for THAT).  It’s not all that we would like it to be, because we had to compensate for my health a little, but it is still a pretty strong routine and it should come across well.  I am looking forward to performing it, and have nothing to do but rest until then.

Connection seems to have clicked for me, and I hope it is the same when there is an audience.  I am allowing myself to enjoy the performance part of the dance, which is something a little new for me.  It has also led me to think a bit about the student-instructor relationship, or at least the one I have with my instructor, as every pro/am relationship is different.  I will share my thoughts on that tomorrow as it might help explain some things.

For now, I have allowed myself to be disappointed with the delay, but found the possible silver lining to it, and I will rest until Saturday when I hope all will go smoothly.

We have an ending!

Just a quick post tonight because it’s been a hard day side effect-wise and I really need some sleep before my usual Thursday appointments tomorrow morning.

My open Cha Cha routine now has a full ending (although, it actually ends with Hustle), so hopefully I will be feeling better tomorrow night and we can just run through the whole routine over and over.  I am glad to have an ending but really wish I had been able to better incorporate it. My mind shut down almost immediately into my lesson, which meant I was working on auto-pilot most of the time, and kept missing things I normally wouldn’t have any issue with–like timing.  Everything seemed to be working in slow motion for me.

I have an appointment with a oncology  nurse-practitioner tomorrow which I imagine will be followed by a phone conversation with my medical oncologist.  As much as I am generally positive, I think I may have reached the breaking point for side effects for me.  This week has been particularly hard and this is the second time I have reached what they deem ‘intolerable’.  The first time they reduced my dose by 10%.  This time I am not sure if I am willing to even continue.  The side effects are bad enough that right now I just want to sleep until July 10th–not because I am tired (which I really really am), but because at least when I am sleeping I don’t have to feel any side effects.

It’s been a long 21 weeks.

You can do anything

I wanted to add a quick post with a dance update 🙂

Had a brief conversation with my instructor last night and if the open Cha Cha isn’t ready we will do our rumba competition routine, not jive (whew! load off there). Again I hope the open routine will be ready as it would be pretty amazing to perform.

My instructor asked me today if I would be ok with either him or me to make a brief statement before my performance to talk a little about what I am going through–not to say ‘give her a break, she’s sick’ but to say ‘you can do anything you put your mind to–just watch me’.

One thing I can say about this entire process is I am slowly learning and accepting that my instructor has developed a lot of respect for me as a person outside of dancing (not saying he didn’t before–this is just a different level).  He has mentioned a few times he is amazed at how I am doing, at what I am able to do, and that I (for the most part), remain calm and positive through it.  I guess because he is my instructor I have always had a lot of respect and looked up to him, but it never occurred to me that he might look up to me.  This conversation today was an example of how, without realizing it, I have affected him in a small way, and he seems to want to share that with others in the community. He actually, without realizing it, encouraged me to start this blog and share my passion for dance, as well as my journey.  Funny how we can affect one another without realizing it.

I am not sure about doing a statement, but then I am not sure if I will even be able to dance at all yet.  Certainly, I have to get the nausea and stomach acid problem under control, and I never had any idea week to week how I will feel on Saturdays–sometimes I am ok, and even a little ‘buzzed’ from the steroids (like I had 10 cups of coffee), other times I feel like I have the flu.  So that decision will have to be made that day.

Part of me thinks making a statement makes sense. It does allow me to share my journey and I know there is a powerful message there.  One of the reasons I want to perform this showcase is partly to prove to myself I CAN do whatever I put my mind to (within reason), and part of me would like to dedicate it to all those fighting cancer. I will have to think about it seriously.  I have a week 🙂

Also if the performance is recorded (and it will be), I can post it on facebook for my family to see.

You see, I live on one coast of the country, and my family all lives on the other.  I am ok with it, but especially now, it is difficult, especially for my parents, to understand and see I am doing ok.  I post a lot of dance videos on facebook so they can share in my dance world–otherwise, they would really have no idea about it.  Facebook is the main place I communicate with my family.

I haven’t posted a lot about being sick on facebook (I see no need), but I have posted two pictures of me smiling in my chemo scarf mentioning I am ok and still dancing.  At least I look healthy.  But it is one thing to see a random static picture once every 3 months, and another a dance performance video.  I think it would drive home that I really AM ok, and doing well.  And I truly am.  The support I have here, through dance, work, and friends has been truly amazing.  I am truly blessed.

I guess I will give the statement some thought.  One of the things that surprises me is whenever someone mentions how inspired they are to see I am still dancing.  It just never occurred to me that I could be an inspiration to others, because that is not why I am dancing, so not something I ever think about.  I just feel lucky that my side effects have been relatively mild (compared to what others go through, and what is possible), and that dance is still possible.

I just want to dance and be me 🙂

There are good days…then there are…

Today was the first time I had to stop practicing because I became sick.

I was fine one moment doing jive basic, then the next I had pain shoot through my temple and I was dry-heaving in the bathroom.  I think (hope!!) this was just a random occurrence with a lot of things just happening at once.

Just 4 treatments left. Next one tomorrow.  I can do this.

Today actually started out pretty great.  Thursdays always start with mandatory bloodwork in preparation for my Friday treatments, but when I got home I was able to sort a little bit of the pieces from my showcase routine in my kitchen, and have a look at the videos to make some notes for myself for my lesson tonight.

Then my day turned from relaxing to incredibly stressful and I ended up doing a lot of extra running around before going to the studio to take care of some ‘other world’ stuff.  Most of it is resolved, but I have to make some big decisions next week that affect a lot and are keeping my stress levels a little higher than they should be.

All that aside, I still made it to the studio for my usual time. Thursdays are usually when I am strongest but they are a bit of a hybrid–I do half my practice, a lesson, then finish practice.  My first practice went as usual, I only noticed I seemed to be over-heating a bit having a lot of hot flashes (chemo causes an intense form of early menopause we call ‘chemopause’, so hot flashes are almost normal).  Nothing concerning.

My lesson was good, but short.  My instructor ended up arriving late to his first lesson, which put my lesson behind schedule.  Because of my health, I bill in 15 min intervals, so I am his most flexible student to adjust.  To put himself back on time, he took 15 mins from my lesson tonight I will get back later. I wasn’t impressed, but I understood why and he is not usually late. We took some time to work on the styling for the showcase routine, so I can work on my own this weekend to incorporate it with the movements before my lesson next week.

Hard to believe I am still considering performing in just over a week on June 27th.  We are at the point now that my instructor has said we will see how the routine is next Thursday during my lesson, and decide from there whether to do it or one of my competition routines in another dance.  He keeps saying ‘jive’, which is a good dance for me…when I don’t have legs going to jelly after 45 seconds.  I asked him to reconsider his ‘back-up’ dance for something else.  Hopefully, the open routine will be good to go and we won’t even need it.  All of this is assuming I am physically able to dance that night–which will be determined that day.

But I digress–after my lesson I resumed my regular practice as normal and felt fine until I wasn’t.  It was so disheartening and scary to become sick so suddenly.  I am so close to getting through all my treatments and still being able to dance, so I hope hope hope this is an isolated event.  There is one thing I can think of–I treated my cats with flea drops today, and it is possible that the drops on their coat are what is making me sick.

A few silver linings to today–my instructor told me a really awesome coach for standard will be coming back to town in Mid-July.  I worked with her once before at Easter during the first half of chemo and I wasn’t very strong then.  She is coming more than 10 days after my last treatment so I should have more of my strength back and that will be great!  My instructor wants her to go through all 4 of my standard routines with me (no need for a routine in Viennese Waltz) to do some styling and ‘lady’ stuff.  I can’t wait for her to come back and am glad to have something to look forward to!!

I also received an invitation from ‘Beautiful Girl in the Ballroom’ to join the Ballroom Village.  I am flattered to have been noticed by her as I have been following her blog for quite some time, and have found it inspirational in my own journey.  It’s like running into a celebrity 🙂

Practice for meditation and lifted spirits

Wednesdays are my hardest days dance-wise.  I have a 1-hour lesson that I follow with about 2 hours of practice exercises, which normally wouldn’t be that bad, but everything is a little more difficult now and takes just a little bit longer every week.

Great lesson tonight though.  We are working on an open showcase routine which (fingers and toes crossed!!) we hope to perform in two weeks.  The hard part is that I won’t know until the day of the showcase how I will be feeling, and if I will be able to dance or not–it all depends how treatments are going.

The routine is a lot of fun though.  It’s my first open routine and it is a combination of cha cha, rumba, and a little bit of hustle thrown in at the end.  It’s almost 3 minutes of dancing which is a challenge any day 🙂  My instructor has really let me out of the box for this one, as usually he sticks to the steps for the level I am working at.  Truthfully, he has a lot more faith in my abilities than I do, and I have been pretty surprised what I am able to do in this routine.  There is a lot of spinning, but tonight he added an interesting lean where he is holding one of my legs.  It is also one of the most theatrical pieces we have done, and that is adding to the fun.  We are at the point now where we can run through it without stops (although with mis-steps here and there), and there is just the final 2 bars that still need to be choreographed (so, some sort of fabulous ending 🙂 ).  Tomorrow I imagine the ending will be finished and we will start polishing and making sure the styling works.

We videotaped it tonight to get an idea of what it will look like, and I am really surprised in a good way. Parts are rough, but what is good actually looks good (considering I am a bald overweight lady).

One thing I like about Wednesdays is that I do all my practice exercises after my lesson, so I am already tired when I do them.  I think there is a lot you can learn when you do things tired–like what is actually working and solid and what is not so much.  I have a series of technical exercises I do in both standard and latin and it even includes some ballet work for latin footwork and ballet arm work for styling and standard frame.  Some of the exercises are vigourous and involve just repeating basic techniques (like jive basic) over and over for endurance and muscle memory, others are slower and more relaxed involving rocking without stepping, again for muscle memory, and some are just completely static–like holding arm positions for endurance.

I find the entire sequence quite meditative.  I plug into my ipod, have set music for each exercises, set rest periods (some days I need more than others), and just move in my own little world.  Even if I have a bad day where it seems like I can’t do any of the movements right I still end up feeling relaxed after and clear-headed.  No matter how bad a day I am having I always feel better after I dance.  That’s why and how dance is getting me through this.  Right now, I typically don’t dance from Thursday night until Monday evening because of my treatment schedule, and those days are definitely the longest of the week.  There’s a huge difference between the days I dance and days I don’t.

On the plus side, this week I started working on transitioning back into full shoes with a 2 1/2 ” heel, and so far so good, although right now I am only wearing them for static exercises to help with posture changes.  Otherwise, I have to wear dance sneakers during practice (I wear practice shoes with cuban heels during lessons) because the heels put too much pressure on the balls of my feet which are inflamed and swollen from my treatments.  Since I only have 4 weeks left, I am starting to very gradually transition and can’t wait to be back to wearing full shoes all the time.  Especially in latin I find the difference huge, especially in posture.

On the down side the swelling in my right leg from the treatment drug is starting to cause pain in my ankle.  I hope acupuncture is able to keep it at bay so it won’t get too sore to dance. Time will tell I guess.

Next lesson is tomorrow and I can’t wait!