A Lot to Catch Up on

There has been a lot going on for me lately.

Hence the reason I haven’t posted much.

First, I wanted to share an article I wrote about my experience while I was deployed that was published on Dance Comp Review. To read it, click here.

Now that is out of the way, I am 40 today. For some reason that seems like a big milestone.

Part of it could be that I have been struggling a lot lately. I noticed I was really lacking in motivation, felt tired all the time and felt like I was forcing myself to do almost everything. I was really hating my strength training workouts and running was getting harder. Then the issues started happening.

In 2007 I fell from a wall during training and tore a disc in my lower back. It took a long time to get that injury under control and every now and then it flares up, but it hasn’t flared up since before I was sick so I wasn’t thinking about it too much.

Until about a week and a half ago. I was running and started to get a pain in my hip. At first I didn’t think much of it, but then when it kept creeping alarm bells started going off. The pain in my hip is usually a sign my back has flared up. I immediately started doing the back bend exercises that helps it feel better and as the pain moved back into my lower back that seemed to confirm it had flared up. I rested a few days, did hundreds of back bends and it seemed to be back under control.

But, I am not that lucky. I ran again yesterday and it immediately flared up again. I cut my run short, but it wasn’t good. My neck and shoulders were also acting up giving me the ‘twingy’ sensation through my neck. Overall, it was just too much. I had a bit of a breakdown and relented it was time to see the doc.

The conversation with the doc was good, but gave me a lot to think about. In particular, I am rethinking overall how I am training. Right now, my training at the gym is focused on building upper body strength and power for my PT test. Unfortunately, that is counter to pretty much all the rest of my goals. And focusing on training for my PT test is starting to break my body. It isn’t what I want to be doing and I am not making a lot of progress so it wearing on me overall.

The doc suggested I take a step back from preparing for the test and focus on what I want to do. It just makes a lot of sense right now and among other things, it would help me put my body back together since it seems a bit determined to fall apart right now.

I have an appointment with physio on Friday to have my hip, back, neck, shoulders and ankles looked at. It will also be an opportunity to discuss what I want to do for training to get some direction for what I need for myself versus what I need for the PT test. Next week I have an appointment with the adaptive fitness trainer I work with and that should give me a new program overall.

Running, unfortunately, is probably going to be completely off the table. Back to the elliptical for me most likely.

So that has been the main thing weighing on my mind – dreading my workouts and feeling like and knowing I was working hard but somehow never getting closer to my goals. When the work and the goals don’t match up, it makes sense.

The doc also pointed out that because of the radiation, chemo, side effects and surgeries my upper body muscles may never be as strong as they were and they may be permanently weak. Its something to consider at least.

I don’t know what the changes will look like, but I am looking forward to some sort of change.

Dance tonight seemed different in itself – but I will leave that for another post.

Still a lot to catch up on.

 

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Seeing Standard Come Together

We recorded some videos yesterday.

Exclusively standard, we recorded the Waltz, Foxtrot and Tango line by line to make the best use of the hall.

We haven’t recorded these new standard routines at all except for 2 or 3 individual steps, so it was the first time to see the work I have been doing come together.

The waltz (which we have been working on the most) looked the most polished. I can truly say that I am proud of how the waltz looked and I was really surprised by parts of it. Probably for the first time in a very long time I could see a distinct improvement in standard. It was really great to see!

The foxtrot was not as strong, but it also showed great improvement, especially the first half we have worked on a lot recently. The last half needs work, but it is not a complete disaster. It’s passable, but obvious that it hasn’t been looked at a lot.

The tango was a different story. I couldn’t seem to settle into it, and the position change for tango from waltz and foxtrot really threw me off. We had been working a lot of position in the swing dances and one thing that really helped me and kept me grounded in those dance was stretching back into Boss’s right hand with my left shoulder blade. In tango, because the position is different, that ‘anchor’ just wasn’t there and that caused me to not feel like the position was ‘locking in’. It was obvious watching the videos that my position was all over the place. It was also obvious that I wasn’t completely confident with the steps and in places you could tell I felt a little like I was chasing Boss through the dance.

We started on the quickstep, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t ready to be recorded in time with the music as we haven’t really worked on it and we have never tried it at speed. We agreed to make it a project for this week in my lessons and to aim to record it next weekend along with some of the latin routines.

Today at my lesson, quickstep was indeed the theme. We managed to work through the first few lines to the third corner in time with the music, looking at details here and there as necessary. Honestly, the hardest part was getting started and into the first line as I kept miscounting steps. Once we got going, it seemed to come together a bit better.

We finished today with a new conditioning sequence for jive. It’s a challenging sequence with steps straight from my routine, including what is probably the most difficult part of the routine with a combination of turning sailor shuffles and simple spins. It is already coming together better than it was on Friday when I just learned it and I can tell that it is stressing my system (in a good way) more than the samba. It takes longer for my heart rate to recover and it is working my body in a different way.

On a final note today, I had my 6-month follow-up with my oncologist. It went really well and quick, with only one “Are you Kidding?” note when he asked if I would like to try the hormone therapy again now that my ovaries have been removed. I think he realized pretty quickly that I wouldn’t even consider it and switched his messaging to acknowledge that I did try it for more than 6 months and I did have a very toxic reaction, which did justify leaving it behind. The good news is that I will see him again in 6 months and after that I will switch to yearly follow-ups with him with check-ups with my family doctor in between. One more step forward.

I haven’t written much as work has continued to be crazy busy and that combined with school and trying to prepare to be away has left me pretty stressed. I am off 4 days this weekend and I cannot wait. It’s the first full weekend off I have been going pretty full tilt with work since I returned from the cruise and I can tell that the break is completely needed. With the long weekend the week after and no duty in sight, I will have three 4-day weeks in a row before a really busy push to the end of September. After that, it looks like I will be in Ottawa for a few days before getting ready for the extended work trip after that.

Boss has also asked me to consider doing one of the latin routines in a showcase event with one of the other local studios. I am thinking about it, but I am not sure any of the latin routines will be ready in time and I am hesitant to add to my stress levels trying to push to prepare it. Part of my doubt is that I am really not sure where any of the latin routines are at as far as doing them at speed with the music because other than rumba, we haven’t tried any of them. This week we should have a chance and I will make my decision from there. It would be nice to do a performance before I leave.

So perhaps next week I will be able to write about how the latin is coming together.

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.

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.

A New Chapter

I’ve been thinking a lot about dance lately.

It started before the cruise and has continued into this week.

I think the time away from competing, as difficult as it has been, has been good for me. I can genuinely say that I am enjoying being able to take the time to dig into the details of the routines and steps and movements that I am doing. I’ve been able to connect with my body and dance in a way I didn’t expect.

And I really really like it.

That’s not to say I don’t want to compete anymore, absolutely I do!

But I am not in a rush to do it. I also don’t find I have a need to do it as much as I felt I did before.

What I crave most from dance right now is the experience of it. Yes, competing is part of the experience, but it is no longer the main goal for me.

Right now, I want to see how far I can continue to develop and grow through dance. I want to keep developing those details, keep pushing myself, keep working to see what I can do.

I want to inspire others to dance and to be an example for other dancers to look up to. I have overcome a lot to be where I am right now and I know life is going to continue to throw obstacles at me, whether in dance or other areas of my life. That is just how life goes. By meeting those challenges, that is how we grow and get stronger.

I have grown a lot and come so far in dance, and there is so much more of this journey left.

But right now I feel my focus in dance needs a slightly different focus. I want to focus more on development.

For the past 8 months or so, my dance journey has been focused on me and my development. I haven’t really been able to do that since before I got sick because there was always a competition or test or performance I was preparing for. During that time, that prep and focus on tangible goals was what I needed.

I am surprised to discover that I don’t really need that sort of focus anymore.

I do still have a need and desire to compete and perform, but it is not as pressing. When I do it, I want to do it to show my progress, and mostly it’s to show that progress to myself. I feel that competitions, and by extension performance (I would much much rather compete than perform) are necessary to help give a limit to break up phases of development. They give a timeline for taking a step back, evaluating, and refocusing.

For the past year, I have enjoyed working with Boss more than I have during the 5 years prior to it. We really have come into a solid grove with how we work, and it really is at a higher level than I ever really thought possible, in consideration of the struggles we had trying to get and stay on the same page before that. There is an element of mutual respect I never expected.

It makes me optimistic and eager to see where Boss’s teaching will lead me next.

I am so grateful that I discovered pro/am, despite the unique challenges it presents. Without it, I likely would have stopped dancing a long time ago and I would definitely not be where I am now. The opportunity it provides me is unmatched.

I don’t know what the future holds. I expect at some point my career will take me to a new location and that will mean new dance experiences. For now, I intend to embrace the opportunities Boss gives me as best I can. I don’t know what all those opportunities will be, but I do know I will continue to get fitter, healthier and feel better — which finally brings me back full circle to the main reasons I started dancing in the first place. Before I found dance, I was very lost and broken.

Through dance I have become strong and confident. I would never have beaten cancer without it. Words cannot express my gratitude for those who have been part of my dance journey, especially Boss who never gave up on me, even when I seemed determine to give up on dance, myself, and to make it as difficult as possible.

This has been such a long time coming.

It’s time for a new chapter in dance for me. I am not quite sure where it will go, but I know it will be great and ideas are already forming. Once I can get them organized into some sort of sense, I will present them to Boss and see what he suggests.

I’m excited for this new chapter and where it will lead me.

Time to start writing.

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.

Quick cruise update

Greetings from the Atlantic!

I am on day 12 of my 14 day cruise and currently sailing from Inverness to Edinburgh. Following that we sail back to Southhampton to start the journey home.

It’s been a pretty amazing trip despite some small bumps. All of the ports have been amazing and I really recommend everyone take an opportunity to cross Iceland off any bucket list they may have.

I managed to get my group project for school done about a week early, so that is a load off! My weekend when I get home will be my next paper but I should be in a good place for it.

The first week at sea I was pretty diligent about eating, practice and weight training, but have relaxed a little the last couple days.

I am a little concerned because I seem to have upset my back and am getting pulling sensations down my legs, especially the right side when I sit or lie. It’s been 2 days now and can’t seem to get relief. I am hopeful it will settle once I get back to normal at home.

That’s all for now, back at things when I get home late Friday night, and a full summer yo build consistency without any travel.

At least so far.

Starting to fly on my own

Well, maybe not fly exactly.

The routines are slowly starting to take shape. Three of them are becoming pretty solid in my feet and two more are starting to get consistent.

The trickiest part is trying to take what I do with Boss and figure out how to execute it on my own. We are even starting to work through some of the technique for the section I know.

To put it simply, I am starting to feel like the routines are becoming doable and not quite so overwhelming.

I have also found some time to focus just on the routines, which is something I have been missing. Boss was able to make some extra time available at the studio on Sundays, so I am going to make that my routine time. It is also time to ‘catch up’ if for some reason I missed a practice during the week.

In other news, the ‘fog’ begun lifting at about 4 pm on Friday. I had a few foggy hours on both Saturday, Sunday and today, but the clear moments are much longer. It’s such a relief to have clarity again. My energy and productivity seems up some, so I hope it lasts and I skip the usual week of intense frequent hot flashes. Fingers crossed, so far so good.

My lessons this week, at least tonight and Wednesday should be focused on going through things on my own with Boss coaching. That will go a long way in solidifying the routines for me before I go away, so I can keep working through them while overseas–one of my main goals right now.

I gave Boss a list tonight of some of the things I would like to go through and hopefully the lesson this week will cover all of it. We already got through quite a bit tonight as it is a lot of small details.

We are also progressing with the conditioning. On the advice of my trainer, we raised the threshold of recovery to when I get under 140 BPM instead of under 130 to push my limits a bit more. It means less time recovering and more time moving. It’s more exhausting, but that is a good thing and why we do it at the end of my lesson.

The only slightly awkward thing is that my lesson is almost always just before a group class, which means I do most of my conditioning with a group of waiting students watching. It’s a little weird and sometimes they don’t realize they have walked into my lesson and start trying to ask Boss questions or pay for their class. It’s getting a little better though.

Sometimes, improvements seem to take forever to come and stick. This week, it seems that the work I have been doing is starting to pay off.  There are other signs of progression not only in dance, but in my strength and health in general. I am less tired and exhausted overall, sleeping a bit better, and feeling stronger as I move.

All signs that flying is not far off…

Blogger Appreciation Award

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I have recently been recognized for the Blogger Appreciation Award, and I want to take a moment to complete the rules of:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Use the award image.
  3. Write a paragraph of something positive about yourself.
  4. Nominate and notify as many bloggers as you wish.

So for number one, I was nominated by DWall of Facing Diagonal Wall , with an overwhelming description of my blog and what he likes about it. I think it was a bit overwhelming because as much as he enjoys and admires my blog, his blog was one of the first ballroom blogs I stumbled across and strongly contributed to me beginning to write here. When I found his blog, I read a few posts and related to it so much I went back to the beginning and read they entire blog in almost one sitting. Having been doing pro/am and experienced the franchise system, I understood a lot of what he was writing. At that time, I was going through chemo and it got me thinking that blogging might be as an outlet to air some of my frustrations, work through the stress and provide information for others struggling like I was. And so this blog was born.

Something positive about me–like DWall said in his post, I am a fighter. I have been through a lot and still keep smiling and pushing forward. When faced with choices between fighting on or giving up, I always choose fight, even if I have to change my tactics and retreat a little before finding that way forward.

There are two other bloggers I want to nominate, both of which also contributed to inspiring me to start my own blog and share my story. I follow both of them regularly and never miss a post.

The first is Adventures in the Dance Kingdom by The Thesbian. I love his cast of characters and lego figure photos he includes with every post. I can’t imagine the time it takes to plan and stage each photo. He writes about being a male amateur competitor and some of the quirks and quarks that come with that and shares his journey and interactions with other in his Kingdom in great detail. He has embarked on a new journey recently with his competing and I wish him and SparkleDancer luck!

The second is The Girl with the Tree Tattoo. I really hope to meet this amazing lady some day. Her blog and experiences, while she focuses on a different style, very much echo my own. We both have moments of self-doubt we overcome and we both are struggling to pro/am competitors and all the challenges that includes. She is an avid writer (with 2 ballroom dance e-books out!), and very passionate about her blog and dancing. She is very open and regularly posts videos and photos, something that I am much less inclined to do. I love how she always puts herself out there.

I am so very humbled and encouraged to see that my writings (and occasional rants) are enjoyed by so many in so many ways. As things start to settle in my life (in theory), I plan to try to write a little more often as I continue my journey with Boss in dance and recovering and surviving. You all help keep me motivated and inspired.

Happy reading 🙂