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.

Eyes up

This is my new challenge.

As I mentioned previously, when I do my exercises and personal practice, I find it meditative and tend to go a little inside myself and just focus on the sensations of my body moving.

Unfortunately, when I do this I tend to focus my eyes on nothing and typically cast my eyes (and my head) down towards the floor.  It’s a habit which comes back to haunt me a little as when I concentrate, that is my ‘default’ mode.

Yesterday in my lesson, we went through all of my exercises as Boss had already noticed a few things that needed to be addressed.  Number one on his list was that I need to do all my exercises keeping my eyes and head up, with my chest lifted–just as it has to be when in standard position.  Latin exercises are more focused forward.  The biggest thing is to keep my gaze up from the floor.

This shouldn’t be hard to do, but for some reason it just doesn’t quite gel with what I do naturally, so it takes a lot of conscious thought.  But habits are build through perseverance so time to keep on myself and develop a new one.  This will also help with my endurance for maintaining my standard position in the long run.  It certainly is learning a new way to concentrate and focus internally.  It should be a good challenge (like I don’t have enough already!).

For the most part, it seems the exercises are going well, even though it’s only been a week I have been working on them.  Some of the biggest changes came in latin exercises focused on rumba walks (hardly a surprise!) and bota fogos.  It’s good to know that things already seem to be rebuilding.  Boss mentioned we might start working on some sequences this week, but honestly I am in no rush.  I like what we are doing now.

Boss asked me to provide him with some feedback for things I am not sure of on the exercises, but I told him I wanted to wait until after Wednesday’s practice to give myself time to evaluate, and settle into more consistent practice.  I find if I don’t give myself time then things get confusing as my body hasn’t figured out what it is doing in the first place before I start making changes.  I am quite happy with how things are feeling already (as far as consistency) and there are really only a couple exercises our of 18 that continue to vex me.

So now I will add in keeping my eyes up and see how that changes things.  Part of the issue is just being comfortable with myself and not trying to ‘hide’ inside myself too much as I work.  On the one hand, it is great how focused I get, but on the other….

I need to be able to dance ‘out’.

Game on!

And so it begins!

Lesson 1 this week is done and was spent working on exercises for standard technique.  Most of them seemed to be ok, but some of them are really a challenge for me as I have a very hard time twisting from my hips without twisting my upper body separately.  Even harder is that I seem to have no way to tell when I have twisted them separately.

I really like working this way though.  Feeling connection between my mind and my muscles and how they all work together and are able to be controlled is one of the things I like most about dance.  I am a tactile person and dance provides lots of tactile data–from the feel of the floor up to the connection with the partner through the hands.  Focusing on specific movements and how my body is moving and working is very meditative for me and it usually calms me. Helps to keep the stress down and clears my head.

I am looking forward to see what exercises the next lessons bring, I am imagining it will be the latin side of the house, but I really don’t know. I am just basically going with things for now and keeping an open mind.

Short post today, but I am working on a paper for school, while on duty for work and keeping up with multiple readings.  My goal is to try and do at least little posts here and there when I can.

I hope things are going well for you too!

First lessons of 2017

I have already had 4 lessons this year.

Sheesh. Seems to be a lot.  On top of that, I am participating in a ‘Ballroom Boot Camp’ this week, which is extra work.

Yesterday’s first lesson was a styling lesson focused on Cha cha and jive.  It was good to work out some of the points and timing of the styling.  I need to think some on what I do in the beginning of the cha cha though, I have a bar that works and another bar that isn’t quite there yet.

Jive was tricky.  Of all the dances, it seems that I have forgotten the most about jive technique–staying forward, keeping steps compact, using my core to lift my legs. It was a good review though and we worked out some of the styling points in that routine as well.

My second lesson yesterday worked through a few different pieces of standard and smooth tango.  We made some changes in the standard tango last week so we needed to review them and put them in context. In the smooth tango we reviewed some of the changes we made there.  Lots of detail work, but all went well.

The boot camp was fun–it was some circuit training, breathing and stretching.  I am having some issues with my neck right now, which hindered me a little, but I am hoping the tension will let go soon.  It has happened before, but much worse–my entire trapezius went into spasm and seized up.  I couldn’t turn my head almost at all when that happened.  So far, it is not that bad and it does seem to be moving around and changing which is a good sign.  I have been doing a lot of preventative work including heat, voltaren, gentle stretching and trying to avoid anything that hurts.

Today we started with running through parts of the smooth tango, and then it was smooth Viennese Waltz the rest of the time–working through the steps and running them with the music.  We did forget one section, but we did get a lot of progress done.

My lesson tonight was also focused on the smooth VW.  Running through bigger chunks of the routine in time with the music and making some small adjustments as needed.  It’s a pretty intense routine and I have to hand it to those who dance smooth for being able to put all the pieces together in a VW routine.  I am looking forward to running it more in a bigger space and now I know what part of the routine I need to sort out on my own.

Tomorrow we should run through and discuss the styling for the smooth tango.  It’s not that the styling is complicated, but Boss and I need to agree on it in order for it to work.  After my lesson, there is the next session of the bootcamp, which I am looking forward to.

Already a busy and positive start to 2017!

Routine Work

I had an interesting day today.

I woke up and I found myself just wanting to do some work on my routines.  I had specific things I wanted to work out, like keeping my knees bent, and doing them with the music.

So I went off to the gym and was lucky to have the entire upper gym to myself.  I just turned on some music on my ipod and got down to work.  I worked my way through QS, Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot.

It has been a long time since I have gone to just practice on my own and do what I really wanted.  I could tell all last week that the time was coming though.  It’s hard to explain.

I was finding that my other practice times at the studio seemed a little chaotic.  The studio was busy this week and while that doesn’t usually bother me, this week I was distracted by it.  I just felt unfocused and out of sorts.

Today was completely different.  I was in my ‘zone’.  I knew what I wanted to do and I got it done.  By the end of the practice, I had been able to run through all 4 routines with the music, with some shaping and keeping my knees bent–especially in quickstep.  The timing in quickstep and tango was a little off, but I couldn’t tell if I was rushing the ‘quicks’, or generally behind.

What made today so interesting is after I realized it was something I used to do, but hadn’t in quite a long time.  I just get in these moods sometimes where I just decide and determine to do something specific with all routines.  It doesn’t have to take long (today was about 40 mins), but sometimes I can get into that zone for more than an hour.  There is just something about working with no one around, no cell phone keeping track of time, no time limitations.  Just me, my ipod and what I want to work on.

I can see myself returning to doing this a little more in the future.  It was just a little piece of something I used to do that I had forgotten how to do. Getting through my routines with the timing helped my confidence.

It was healing after a hectic week.

Happiness is…

Being able to look back over a week of vacation and know it was both productive and relaxing.

When I went into the beginning of this week off, I initially told myself I would do extra practice, get to the gym, stay busy, etc.  At the end of Monday, I renegotiated with myself and pointed out that I was on vacation, even though I was at home and that my mind and body needed it.

So, I threw out the usual routine and did exactly what I wanted to do.  Gave myself a ‘self-discipline’ break.

I had some projects I wanted to complete this week, the main one being my master’s application.  I am happy to say after 6 hours of writing, I submitted it this morning.  I will hear in 4-6 weeks if I got in.

Even though I was relaxing this week, I did get a huge amount accomplished–I have a clean apartment, a new couch, a new hammock, a finished quilt, a finished pillow and a new hard case installed on my scooter.  I also worked through the footwork in the latin open routines, and feel more ‘grounded’ in the standard ones.  I spent time with friends and enjoyed my cats.

One of the most productive things I did though was to just let myself ‘reset’.  I drew a line between my ‘return-to-work’, and my future.  I started what I hope will be some new traditions, like sleeping in on the hammock on the weekends after waking up to take my hormone therapy (tried it this morning and it was divine!).  A Sunday cleaning routine (instead of trying to do a little during the week).  And time to read that is not just before I fall asleep.

Oh, it’s the little things that makes life precious.

Tomorrow it is back to the proverbial grindstone, and I am ready and looking forward to it.  In fact, I had to keep reminding myself yesterday that it was Saturday, not Sunday.

This week will mark the return to limited running–1 min of running and 3 mins of walking–to see how my knees tolerate it.  It will also be the first week of focusing on mini-routines and no exercises at dance, something very new, and which I am looking forward to.  And, next Sunday will be the return to competitive practice run-throughs!  Finally! I could have started this week, but both Boss and I agreed that my routines are not quite at the run-through stage yet, and…I am still on vacation :).

Boss told me his plan for my lessons next week is to work through the routines for the competition and get the ready for the run-throughs.  Since the routines are now all choreographed and I have a general idea of how they should go, it should be an interesting week.

Shimmy Shimmy Shake

Oh good lord…

That was my exact response when Boss proposed we do a section of ‘shimmying’ in our open samba routine.

But, I have been trying to get out of my comfort zone and shimmying is definitely out there.  After a few rather hilarious attempts to get me shimmying rather than twisting, it seemed to start to come together.  The worse part is that I will have to spend a lot of random moments shimmying to keep the sensation in my head…so guess what I may be doing in the office tomorrow to get out of my chair.  Thankfully my colleagues are used to me doing random weird dance things.

Today’s lesson was about putting together 3 open latin routine for the competition in October.  Mostly, Boss added some open variations to the routines I already had, so it wasn’t too complicated but each routine certainly has it’s challenges.  Samba seems to be the trickiest, but it was last tonight and my mental capacity was definitely fading.  My mind was just spinning trying to keep track of all the steps.

We were able to record Boss doing my steps for all 3 routines so I have something to reference when I have some time to think through the routines.  I like the variations a lot and look forward to seeing what will happen with the standard routines on Thursday.

It occurred to me this weekend that there are only 6 weeks left until this competition.  We will be sending in the entries soon, and booking the hotel.  I am excited and nervous at the same time.  It’s been a really long time since I have done focused work to prepare for a competition and it still seems a bit surreal.  We are even starting to do some planning for the competition after that in January.

There are only 3 open latin routines so far because I will only be doing 3 latin dances.  We actually have elements for the 4th (jive), but none of the events I will do at this upcoming competition will have either jive or paso, so they are not a priority right now.

In standard, Boss told me he will do more of the same–substitute some open steps into my existing routines, at least for Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot.  Quickstep I imagine is a lot more tricky as open Quickstep is very different from syllabus Quickstep.  I guess I will see on Thursday.  For my Viennese Waltz we will try adding some pivots and see how they go.  We have been working on them, so I hope they will go well.  I actually haven’t really done VW in almost 6 months, so that should be an interesting experiment.

One thing the open latin routines don’t have that I think I would like to see added is a small entrance to the routines.  I will have to float that idea by boss.  I have some ideas, and I think something to ‘set the stage’ might be interesting.

Tomorrow is another step forward–I have a dress fitting!  I haven’t seen my dresses in over a month, so I am really looking forward to see where they are at.  We are getting to the stage where soon the sparkly stuff will be coming out, so that is really exciting.  The competition in October will be my ‘debut’ for these new dresses.

Going back to shimmying, the reason it is so outside my comfort zone is that I am still thinking a lot of the shape I used to be.  In the last few weeks, weight has actually started to come off, instead of just reducing in size, but I still see myself as someone much larger than I actually am.  So the idea of shimmying and shaking immediately brings to mind that it’s too flamboyant and that I shouldn’t be doing it.  Boss thinks the whole effect is a lot of fun and he has me doing a lot of hip movements in all the routines.  I guess it’s good to show off my ‘ass’ets.  Boss did make a point that I can do a lot of these things because it doesn’t take a lot of momentum for me to have a good effect. That is one thing I can’t disagree with.

The routines in general have given me some things to think about and consider.  There are elements where I get to bring some of my personality to the routines, and I need to figure out how to do that.  It’s a challenge, outside my comfort zone, and probably just what I need.

 

 

14 down, 14 to go

And…halfway point!

Honestly, it is starting to get hard.  I spent another day mostly in bed exhausted.  My skin is starting to feel sunburned, not just looking it.  I seem to always feel a little bit nauseous.  My head is always foggy.

But I did get practice in today.

I am very proud of myself for that because it was looking dicey most of the day.  On top of my regular exercises, I took 5 mins to run through the foxtrot sequence on my own.  No idea if I am doing it right, but I could tell my body was at least trying to do something.

The nice thing about practice today was that it was later in the day, the gym was quiet and because I was mentally tired all my exercises were very meditative and relaxing.  They even seemed more consistent than they have been lately.  I was definitely in my happy place.

I am trying to remember to give myself a break.  It’s ok that I am sleeping later in the day, or needing a nap right after my treatment.  It’s ok if the only thing I get done in a day is my dance exercises.  No one expects me to be super productive, except me.

I can tell that even boss is noticing the treatments are starting to weigh on me.  He asks more frequently how I am.  Last weekend he was concerned because I apparently got very red in the face when we were practicing.  Yesterday he noticed (but tried not to) that I was just dripping sweat during my lesson (there was a small comment about it being so hot in the studio, and was I able to notice the humidity).  It’s good though that he is noticing so I don’t feel the need to explain it or point it out.

One of the best things about working with Boss through this is that from just after my diagnosis, he decided to just keep going as though I wasn’t sick and adjusting from there–which is exactly what my approach has been for myself too.  It’s been pretty rocky since I started and finished chemo, but I got through it and kept dancing thanks to his support.

So that makes the next 3 weeks a little easier to face.  First that it is only 3 weeks and not 3 months, second that I have had to manage fatigue before (although not quite this strong!) so I know I can do it, and finally that I know Boss will keep helping me keep dancing as much as I keep pushing myself.  I also have a great support network that is invaluable to helping me get through this. It also helps I have definite goals to work towards and look forward to.

One day at a time.  Just.keep.breathing.

And dancing. Can’t forget the dancing.

Turning around

Slowly my energy is coming back.

I doubt I will get back to pre-chemo shape before my surgery, but at least for the next couple of weeks, until the radiation kicks in, I get a bit of a reprieve and a chance to feel a little bit like my old self.

Two days of radiation down, so far not so bad, except…

I have had 2 treatments and my skin is already looking a little sunburned.  I have to check with the technologists tomorrow because it should be about 2 weeks before any signs show.  That doesn’t bode very well.  I hope it is just because I am so fair-skinned that the redness shows so soon.

That aside, I felt good practicing today.  Slowly I am getting used to wearing heels again.  My feet remain sensitive and crampy, but I am working through it best I can.  Every day I get through practice in heels is another day my feet and ankles get stronger.  My balance seems to be slowly coming back as well and I feel more confident in the shoes than 2 weeks ago.

It was nice to just run through everything today from top to bottom and feel pretty good about it.  I was able to go to my meditative happy place.  I was even able to run through my samba routine both slow and faster without messing up the footwork too bad, and with most of the detailing Boss and I worked on during my last lesson.  There is just one spot that isn’t quite together for me–rolling off the arm.  I just don’t seem to want to do the spins in time on my own.  They will come though 🙂

I think I am relieved to start seeing a glimmer of normalcy to my dancing again.  I have been struggling through things all during chemo, and while they are not easy now, hopefully the corner has been turned.

With a little luck, it will last a few weeks.  For the first time in a while, I am looking forward to a lesson and I want to get my goals sorted out.  I am still lacking some short-term focus, but hopefully Boss will have some direction on that.

Hoping to keep turning!

Getting back on my feet

Literally….in heels.

I finally made it through a Monday practice again–and I did it in full heels–2.5 inches for latin and 2.0 inches for standard.  Felt so great to make that accomplishment.  Only one small blister.

Of course by tomorrow I may be singing a different tune once my muscles catch up with the work they did today.  According to my ‘fitbit’, today’s practice burned 870 calories with an average heart rate of 128. I guess I was working hard!

Today I was able to feel a little bit like my old self–just forget about chemo and pretend I wasn’t dizzy and nauseous and just dance in my happy place.  It’s been a couple weeks since I have been able to get there.

Despite that, there were some frustrating moments.  My spins and spirals are definitely feeling the new heels and have back slid some.  That will require some hard work for sure.  My back lock steps in Cha Cha don’t really want to work, and samba is just plain weird.  Oddly, my standard exercises felt better in my standard shoes.  I think I like the extra stability they provide being less flexible than my practice shoes.

It’s a start though, one day down and as many to go as I want.

I got a call today that I see the radiation oncologist on Thursday and Friday is my radiation planning session which includes at CT Scan, measuring and tattooing.  I was told Radiation will start August 11th and will then last until September 18th.  28 different sessions, every weekday.  I hope it goes by fast.  Thursday I should have a better idea, I hope, of what to expect.

For right now, I am just trying to enjoy and make the most of the little break I have.

Tomorrow I have 4 lessons with a top-level Standard coach and I can’t wait!  I was told we will spend 2 on Foxtrot, 1 on Waltz and 1 on Tango.  We may or may not get to Quickstep.  That’s ok because most of the stuff from Waltz translates to QS pretty well.

I want to share this song that really kept me going when things seemed endless and never ending. It really is like the song of my life: Rachel Platten–Fight Song.

I feel a sense of peace today I haven’t felt in a while. Perhaps it is sinking in that Chemo is really over.

Thank goodness 🙂