And suddenly…

Things are making a lot of sense.

Somewhere between my last lesson and the lesson tonight a few things clicked together. The surprising thing is that it is not so much specific elements that has clicked together but more a realization and understanding of the level I am able to work at and that it is much higher than I give myself credit for.

I am not quite sure what triggered this but it seems to be a good thing. My mind has really zeroed in on pulling together a lot of details, processed them and been able to execute them all together.

There was just something about tonight’s lesson that seemed to come together. We weren’t doing anything different from what we usually did, but it just seemed to work much easier. Less time reviewing things and I was picking up the concepts and making the adjustments faster than I expected.

We were focusing on standard tonight, specifically two sequences of steps in waltz and foxtrot that have a lot of similarities. Both end with a lunge, but the entrance to and out of it is different, as is the sway going into the lunge.

It’s really a variation on a theme, but there are enough subtle differences that my mind needs to stay engaged. The nice thing as we moved through each of the sequences is that Boss would give some little directions for improvement and I was able to just incorporate them.

In the end, it was a really productive lesson that just seemed to flow. It was hard work, but it was paying off. We ended with the samba conditioning and while I was certainly tired, it also just seemed a little more refined and put together tonight.

At my last lesson, Boss asked me which latin dance I would prefer for a new sequence for conditioning – cha cha or jive. I originally said cha cha, thinking it might be more technical, but once I thought about it, jive made the most sense. I do the conditioning sequence in time with the music, and it is usually something from one of my routines.

Of all the routines, jive is going to be the trickiest to get up to speed. So, if I work on elements from the routine during conditioning in time with the music then my confidence will also go up in the steps. It’s also quite the cardio workout, there is no denying that!

I think I needed this small breakthrough this week as I had been feeling a bit complacent about dance – although perhaps that isn’t the right word. Perhaps it’s more that I have been feeling like I have been treading water and a little stagnant. It’s not only dance where I had been feeling that way, but a couple of changes seems to have made a big difference overall.

I also had a really productive weekend and cross a lot of things off my ‘to do’ list which has taken some loads off my mind.

It’s interesting how little changes can have big impacts.

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A New Name

You may notice something different about the blog.

About a month ago I started thinking that perhaps it is time for me to change the name of my blog to reflect that while my journey is not over, the active cancer part of the journey is. I couldn’t think of something at the time, but earlier this week, a name finally came to me. I rolled it around in my head and decided to go for it.

So this blog is now “Beyond Cancer Ballroom Dancer”.

I feel it is fitting because currently my blog is not about dancing through treatment anymore (thankfully) but its more about moving beyond cancer – figuring out how life works again after so much time spent focused on an illness.

And so it is.

I have been a bit quiet lately and for that I apologize. I was getting quite stressed between work, school, and dance and I had to take a step back to reset a little and decompress. I just really needed to take a little time to let my mind calm down so I could think again.

So that is what I have been doing. Focusing on checking things slowly off my ‘to do’ list until I reached a point where I felt like I was back to being a little ahead instead of feeling always behind.

It’s been a really crazy few months. It occurred to me as I was working this weekend that I have actually worked every long weekend since New Year’s, between being on course, being on duty and managing some media requests. It’s no wonder I feel a little like I haven’t stopped. Even the cruise that I was on for ‘vacation’ turned out to not be as relaxing as I hoped when it ended with me forgetting my bag and my ‘recovery’ days getting eaten up being stressed about replacing the things in it and making up for the school work I lost.

I will have a few days off in a couple weeks around the week before the next long weekend and I truly will have the entire Labour Day weekend off. I just need to get through the next couple weeks.

I am hoping tomorrow might be a bit of a funner day at work. As part of my job, I am required to maintain regular qualifications in weapons handling so tomorrow will be spent on the ranges shooting to requalify. Its something completely different and gets me out of the office. I expect to be hot and sweaty but feel like I truly accomplished something. After that, I am going to a dance performance show with a friend and will probably see another I haven’t seen in a long time. I really can’t wait.

I may be a bit absent for a little while yet, but I do promise to write about dance soon. I have been quite busy over the last couple weeks and after the small successes with the latin routines, we are now turning to standard and working in a lot of detail through those routines. The goal is to record them the weekend after next, in time with music, even if not at full strength. It should be interesting.

In the past couple weeks we have also discovered a new challenge for my body related to my knees that I have been actively focusing on fixing. I will speak some more about that too.

In the meantime, I leave you my name change which better speaks to the message I want to convey —

There is life beyond cancer.

The ballet experiment

It certainly has been interesting.

I like it though. When I finish it’s a weird feeling because my muscles are both tired and well stretched. The school I was doing the workshop at really focuses on building strength and flexibility slowly to avoid injury, and I really like that.

I also like the things I have learned about my body through the whole workshop. I already mentioned discovering about my shoulders relaxing as I lift my chest, but there are other things as well. For my posture, thinking of lengthening my hip flexors also helped with lifting my chest.

Focusing on keeping turned out on both sides equally also helped increase awareness. It also revealed that there are some real limitation turning out on my left, that I don’t have on my right to the point that the instructor asked if I had injured my left ankle. I have had issues with it, and broke my left foot at one point, so perhaps that all contributes.

We were doing basic exercises- plies (which are really the worlds slowest squats), tendues (which I had done before for latin, but this was slower and slightly different) and ronde de jambes. This week we started an exercise using chairs that involved placing one foot on the chair in each direction and plieing on the other slowly followed by lifting up to our toes to hold. It’s an interesting exercise, but very intense.

We also started working on the arm positions, which surprisingly I was actually pretty good at (although we are only holding and not moving them).

Places I did well was posture, arms and plies. Where I struggled were some directions of tendues and keeping my hips squared (which tends to mean the opposite of what we do in latin – keeping the hip on the front foot back and the back foot forward).

I will continue it with the same school although likely not until the new year as my fall is very fragmented and I would be able to do only about 3 classes (they are once a week during the year) before heading out. It has also eaten into my school time a lot and I need to make sure I have enough time for it.

I have also noticed that the extra activity and strength training has affected my other activities and my muscles are much more fatigued with no time to recover since I am active sometimes all 7 days a week.

It’s a lot to think about, but overall it’s been a positive experience.

Enough to make me look forward to continuing the experiment.

A Routine Victory

We got through 4 of the 5 latin routines tonight with slow music.

The one we missed was jive, but only because we ran out of time.

We started by reviewing each of the routines then we went through them, first at a slower speed then slightly faster.

We got through all of them without major disaster except paso which needed a pause, but we were able to pick it up again.

It went better than I expected (although I am not sure why I expected disasters) and certainly there are places and elements to work on – like arm transitions and the fact that I have a habit of just barreling along without waiting for the lead or really having any idea of what Boss is doing in some places (so being really surprised to discover some of my turns are underarm for example).

I found for myself some interesting results from the solo practice I have been working on. For example, I have really been working on the NY sequence we have in Cha cha and today it went much better than I expected in context, so much so that the first time I was so surprised I almost stopped. I really had to give myself a pat on the back for that. In addition, there was one spot I couldn’t seem to figure out on my own, but as soon as we put it in context, it clicked that I was missing a step in the timing and I was able to fix it in my practice after my lesson.

I like lessons like today that just put things together for me, but also reveals the places that just aren’t quite there yet. It also helps with building a bit of confidence in my steps and that I know them, which in turn lets me relax a bit about the steps and turn my focus elsewhere like how to move my body instead of my feet.

I think I needed the lesson today. I had been feeling a bit down and like I was working hard but not getting anywhere, although that was probably because of the infection I was fighting (which thanks to antibiotics my energy levels are coming up). The boost from today has been a long time coming.

My ballet experiment is almost over. One more lesson tomorrow. I have to say I like it, and am trying to figure out how I can fit it in my schedule in the fall. They already told me they would work with the time I am away for work. It would be once a week in the fall. It’s sort of like a combination of a strengthening and stretching in one. I will write more on it after the lesson tomorrow.

For now I am going to take my little win.

The little things

Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge the little things.

I had a good practice today minus one instance where I tripped over my own heel and fell into a somersault (that’s what I get for trying to be as compact as possible in cha cha!).

In many ways I needed a day like today to just relieve a bit of stress and give myself a bit of a boost.

The last couple weeks have been difficult for me in general. Work as always is busy, but more so than that is the on-going issues with my neck and shoulders. I have been taking muscle relaxants at night to try to calm them down some so they can strengthen and heal and for the most part it is helping.

But the side effects is not. The muscle relaxants leave me cloudy and exhausted. My body has a very hard time metabolizing them. It takes about 6 hours for them to take effect (usually it is about 30-45 mins), and worse I still feel the effects 12-16 hours later.

And that’s a half dose.

It’s always been an issue for me with this type of medication, which is why I try to avoid it where possible. Unfortunately, the issues with my neck and shoulder reached a point it could not be ignored. On top of that, if I can’t get the pain under control it will affect the opportunities I am given through work.

Worse than that, I am beginning to wonder if I will have to just live with this for the rest of my life due to the reconstruction I had. It may also be contributed to my new breasts being heavier (even though they are smaller) than my natural breasts. I don’t know what to think.

But back to today.

I stopped taking the muscle relaxants a couple days ago so I am finding I have a little more energy, and it took a little bit of effort to get myself to the studio for practice.

Once I got started though I ended up doing 90 minutes which was 30 more than I expected. I also had one of those days where things I have been struggling with for a while seemed to suddenly come together and work.

I was also able to review 4 of the 5 latin routines and finally quickstep seems to be getting under my feet (if not anywhere else).

It was a day of little victories, which was well needed after almost 2 weeks of struggling to get through full practices and flailing about trying to find a way to focus better on my routines.

One of the things that did come out of this week was also a decision between Boss and I not to compete this fall. If all goes well and I do end up traveling for work I will be away for 7 weeks, including those when we would compete, and the lead up to that travel is stressful enough without adding competing to the mix. So mutually we agreed to look at possibilities for competing again in the new year and go from there.

So today I am hanging on to and celebrating the small victories I have made. I am one more week left in the ballet workshop and in general I can say I am enjoying it, but have noticed the effect 2 extra hours of hard work has had on my energy levels overall (muscle relaxants aside).

This week will definitely be about the little things.

Emerging

There’s been a change for me recently.

It has taken until now to fully understand what it is. It’s actually quite simple — I am finally beginning to emerge past my illness. It’s finally starting to be in the distance of my rearview mirror, instead of sitting in my rear window.

It feels good, like baggage I am leaving behind.

Part of it is that I feel as though I am moving forward instead of just trying to get where I was. It’s not that I am back where I was, but that I am just taking a different road to some place new.

It’s interesting, new, and unexpected. Not that I really thought I could go back, but just that I didn’t think forward would come so soon.

I am seeing progress in a lot of different areas of my life and that momentum is what is pushing me forward. I feel as though I am ready to take on new challenges again and to conquer new goals.

I feel strong again, mentally and physically. That’s the biggest difference in the last few weeks. I feel grounded and content. I like where I am now.

Oncologists are still going to be part of my life for at least a few more years, but my appointments with them are pretty straight-forward and not much different from an appointment with my regular doctor.

I am not on any regular medications and haven’t been for so long when I had to pick up a temporary prescription lately the pharmacist remarked he didn’t know I was still here!

It was the same when I saw my family doctor about my neck and shoulders this week – he remarked it had been a while since he had seen me (granted he’s my alternate as my usual doc is on maternity leave).

It occurred to me that I no longer organize my life according to doctor appointments (and until that occurred to me, I hadn’t realized I was doing that!).

I have thought about changing my name on here. When I first created the blog and chose my name I wanted something that talked about my journey but that could also be still used when I was ready to change it. That is why the address is “bcballroomdancer”. I am a dancer who lives in British Columbia, Canada.

I don’t think I am completely ready to make that change yet, but the time will be coming soon. I still have things to offer those who are dealing with breast cancer, its treatments, and side effects, and my own journey is not over (I still have side effects myself) and I don’t want to lose those things.

Do you have any thoughts? I would love to hear them. Perhaps you have an idea for a name that still represents my journey, but is more obvious I have survived?

I feel like I am coming out of my cocoon, but I am not quite sure I am a butterfly.

Yet…

A reflection

It occurred to me today that this time a year ago I was preparing for my total hysterectomy.

In some ways, I can’t believe its only been a year because the difference is incredible.

This time last year, I couldn’t work full days. I was exhausted all the time. I was still on hormone therapy so my mood was all over the place. I was depressed and on strong anti-depressants. I couldn’t sleep so I was on strong regular sleeping medication. I was plagued with hot flashes and most days I felt like I couldn’t think.

I was living through the nightmare of my final days of preventative breast cancer treatments, waiting and hoping that having the full hysterectomy would bring an end to the treatments and side effects and give me my life back, without knowing what the result would be.

It turned out to be better than I or my doctors had hoped.

It was a really difficult decision to make, essentially giving up any chance to bear a child, but once it was made I didn’t look back. In the end, despite what I lost it was the right decision.

Fast forward to today, 1 year later. I have energy. My strength is returning. I am losing the chemo weight. I feel motivated, strong and positive again. I am enjoying my life. The only regular “medications” I take are vitamins. I am back to taking medication for insomnia about once a week and a half dose at that.

I am fully back to work and achieving great things. I am more than halfway through a masters degree. I am dancing on a regular basis and gaining strength with noticeable improvements at the gym.

There is still a long way to go but I am definitely moving forward again. Some elusive goals are starting to look like they will be achievable sooner than I had hoped.

It is amazing the difference that a year can make, and as I reflect I also feel myself doing some small reevaluating and looking at some of the things I want to make a priority for the next year.

Lots of adventures still to have, now that I am healthy enough to fully have and enjoy them.

I can’t wait.

New Exercises!

I honestly cannot contain my excitement!

I guess it is a bit of a testimony to how bored I was feeling that a collection of new exercises added to 3 of my older ones has me completely overjoyed.

It’s not that my previous exercises weren’t challenging, I think it is just that I have been presented with a few fresh challenges to conquer.

I really like the combination I have now, it’s a good balance of standard and latin, exercises for working on slow and some for doing in time with the music. Even those exercises I am keeping have a new dimension to them.

Some of the exercises I am doing twice as long as others to give me time to fully focus in on them and concentrate more on details. Some of them are completely alien feeling and are going to take time to settle into something consistent.

So far, I have only gone through them once (in last night’s lesson and after), so I am still settling into a pattern that works. A couple of them need a little more clarification in a future lesson, but for the most part I am venturing forward and seeing how it goes.

Almost all of them are based on pieces from the current routines I am working on and developing skills needed to execute them.

My lesson yesterday was focused on the exercises as well as working on a small sequence from the waltz together (it’s also an exercise, but good to do together).

I had hoped to get to the studio tonight to run through some routines, but it isn’t going to happen as work has been crazy and ran later than expected eating up the time, combined with forgetting to eat all day (which is a priority now). After two days of pretty intense work I am pretty exhausted, but looking forward to the long weekend (although I do have to work Sunday morning).

My backpack is here! Unfortunately, it is stuck at the distribution warehouse waiting for me to pick it up, which I haven’t been able to do while they are open. Tomorrow looks promising though!

So does another round of exercises 🙂

Milestone reached

Whew!

I finally started feeling better yesterday (thank goodness!), and along with it came the completion of going through all 9 routines during my lesson yesterday!

It’s been a pretty long road for this. Yesterday we reviewed the end of the Paso and finished the foxtrot meaning I now have the steps for all 9 routines in my head.

Now I just have to finish solidifying my memorization, get the timing down and do about a million other things to get them ready to perform, but minor details 😉 At least I have the ‘working’ knowledge down.

I should be able to work through all the routines on my own now, although admittedly, some are more solid than others (afterall, paso and foxtrot are only a couple days old!).

It still feels like a good milestone to celebrate, although I really have no idea if and/or when we will actually put them on the floor at a competition.

There is still a lot of work to do, but at this point its about building layers on the foundation, rather than trying to build a foundation, and that feels better.

My ‘one week post vacation grace period’ I gave myself ends today, so tomorrow it is fully back at it. Due to some schedule changes in the studio, my practice time for exercises is shifting slightly from MWF to SunWF, and I will be adding a standard technique class on Mondays after my lesson. I will be dancing slightly more than I was before my vacation, but very marginally and I am hoping it won’t cause problems. My intent is to add a little more to what I was doing and see how it goes as the level I was at before seemed to be working well.

I am (or at least should be) home for the entire summer and I am looking forward to it. Besides being home, there are no surgeries, no treatments, not even any medical appointments (except a 6-month follow-up) until the fall. For the first time since 2014 my summer is all mine to work consistently on dance, fitness, school and work.

I also have only 2 more weeks of my current course for school (which is definitely the most intense), and then I am on to two courses which are completely led by me giving much more flexibility.

I am eager to see what improvements I can make with just over 2 months of consistent work.

Time to get started.

What is going on?

First — My bag was found intact!

I am just waiting to hear it has been shipped. Words cannot express the feelings of relief that flooded through me when I saw it had been found.

But on to the rest of the post…

As far as I can tell, I seem to be experience some sort of extreme effects of jet lag.

Or maybe it’s a combination of things. At this point I can’t tell.

Exhausted doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel. I have never felt jet lag like this. I am not sure it even qualifies as jet lag, since I am actually sleeping pretty good and mostly usual amounts and hours.

It could very well be jet lag combined with menopause symptoms (perhaps brought on by the jet lag??) and stress. With the loss of my bag and late arrival it was certainly more stressful arriving home than I anticipated.

I am having trouble thinking. There is that entire feeling like I am trying to “think through water” and I can’t seem to put a full sentence together without remembering what I wanted to say. I have recently missed some details leading to obvious mistakes. I do know I was having a lot of intense hot flashes last week.

Last night at dance I got through my lesson (we were finishing off the Paso), but struggled all the way through my practice, barely getting it done. I went to review what we had just done in paso and what I retained seemed to be pretty slim. Today I can’t seem to get past the first two bars before I hit a huge gap.

Work today was painful. I couldn’t concentrate and what I was able to do was pretty limited. I have been working on a course and tomorrow I will have to reread everything I did today. The worse thing is that it is a review course.

I went to the gym to try to clear my head and do some cardio and I came very close to stopping halfway through, even though I wasn’t working as hard as I usually do. I cannot believe how much of a battle it was to do my usual 35 mins of cardio and I couldn’t push myself enough to get my pulse up to the right level no matter how hard I tried.

I did finish my paper for school, but I am loathe to proof-read it. Thank goodness it is a formative step to a bigger evaluated paper.

It’s just before 8 pm and I am more than ready for bed and will head there right after I finish writing this.

I am super frustrated with this feeling because I can’t fully explain it. Beyond being exhausted, I feel weak. It was a struggle even to walk back to my office, which is not that far.

I really hope it is just a perfect storm of factors and after a restful weekend (once the paper is handed in!) it will all resolve. I did have minor surgery on my chest yesterday (10 mins in office) and perhaps that is also contributing. Since I can’t even feel what was done it’s a little out of mind, but I do have 3 stitches that are healing.

This has also left me frustrated at dance because I feel like if I could pull it all together I might have some good progress going on, instead of feeling like I am fighting my body for every movement and step. My balance is off and I feel really ‘clunky’ and cumbersome.

All I can do at this point is keep plugging through and wait for it to sort itself. I have never felt jet lag so intensely. Hopefully when it clears, I will be able to sort through the mist and water and fog in my brain and things will emerge clear.

It’ll come.