2017 Reflections and the impact of living past cancer

Like most, I find myself thinking about 2017.

2017 was a rough year for me. Certainly it was a lot tougher than I expected at the beginning of the year.

I had 2 major surgeries, spent the beginning of the year fighting debilitating side effects from hormone therapy, and lost any possibility to compete in the near future.

But I also completed almost 1/2 of my masters degree with a strong average, competed twice, including in open smooth and gold level, had a strong recovery, lost a third of the chemo weight, had successes at work, bought a new car, and felt my strength return for the first time since 2015.

I may recognize the good easier than the bad and I accept that as a gift.

Some things will continue for 2018. My degree will be only 3 months from completion, I expect work to keep progressing (especially since I can work full-time again now), recovery will continue and with it strength and weight loss. Dance will progress and while I am not going to be competing, I do have the time to focus on me and strengthen my dancing overall.

Cancer taught me a lot of hard lessons, not only about life but also about myself. It showed me strength and discipline I didn’t realize I had, helped me to determine what is truly important to me and to let go of those that are not.

Now, more than ever before, I can truly say that I am happy and content with where I am and where I am going. But that contentment comes more from knowing I am going some where, even if I don’t know the destination. I just want (and intend) to keep going there.

I don’t know what the future will bring. I don’t know when I will compete next, but I know at some point I will. In the meantime, I will continue to learn. I was told by work I can “reasonably” expect to stay in my current geographic location for 3-5 years and I am pleased with that. I am working to make sure I am well set up for my future.

The biggest takeaway from 2017 for me is reaching a point where I feel like I have a future I can look to again.

While dealing with cancer, the future disappeared. Not because the projected outcome was bleak or dismal, but only because it takes so much energy to fight cancer it is necessary to keep focused on the present and take things one day at a time. You focus on treatments–when the next one will be, whether the next day, week or 3 weeks–and work to get yourself there as positively as possible.

I am not sure I would have realized how important things such as dance and my work are to me if I hadn’t had to fight to keep them in my life. It gives me a different perspective on them and I fully believes shapes decisions I make about them–because I know now what is important about them.

This fall, I was put in a position where I had to decide what was more important to me in dance, competing or my process for learning. I would have made a different decision in 2014, and I know I would have regretted it and possibly ended up stopping dance.

I am comfortable in my decision, but also find myself a bit resigned–at least for now. I am resigned to the fact that current circumstances mean I can’t participate in dance how I would fully like to, but the circumstances are just that–current. They will change and I will adapt to new circumstances then. There will come a time when I can determine those circumstances, but it is not yet. There is a time for everything.

So as 2017 comes to an end, those are the thoughts that are bringing me into 2018.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year!

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My (REAL) Dance Goals

I have a difficult time admitting to my goals.

I think one of the things that I personally struggle with when it comes to goals is that for some reason I feel they should be complicated and specific by my goals are and always have been really very simple.

I have two. Both are more about the experience and process than any tangible thing.

My goals are simple:

-to enjoy the experience of learning

-to enjoy the experience of competing

That’s it. There are no levels, placings, techniques or other things linked to it. It’s all about the experience of learning to dance and the experience of being on a competition floor. That is what matters to me when it comes to dance. And if I had to rank them (as recently I have had to do), then learning comes first.

To elaborate on each:

-Learning. I absolutely enjoy learning, whatever it is. I like analyzing, challenging myself, discovering new details and learning about myself and my capabilities in the process. It is the most important thing to me when it comes to dancing. I started with virtually nothing. In my past I have done classes in highland dance, country line dance, hip hop, and belly dance but none of them stuck because they weren’t for me (except maybe highland, but that ended because my teacher moved).

One of the reasons none of them stuck–there was no one to share the learning experience with on a one-on-one basis, although if there had been, perhaps it would have been different. As much as I am learning from an instructor and having the opportunity to develop myself, there is an aspect to ballroom where I have to share with others. At some times, perhaps others even learn from me.

The challenge of learning remains the most important part of dance for me and I don’t see that changing. From my perspective, the only thing that would enhance that would be the opportunity to teach that learning to others, as one never truly really learns something until they are able to teach it to someone else (of course I am very passionate about teaching, so perhaps I am biased on that). Teaching seems to be an evolution of learning.

-Competing. Competing is another aspect of learning for me, and it is truly about the experience. About challenging myself to get out there and in 1:30 show what I know and what I am capable of. Its a 1:30 to share what I have learned with others and perhaps inspire them to learn too. Competing has never been about winning or placements for me. It’s been about growth, stretching myself, learning about myself, seeing what I am capable of and getting outside of box I allow myself to be in during my regular life. Competing is the one opportunity I have to get out and feel like I have achieved something, and that is before the placing or marks come it.

Every competitive experience for me is an achievement and represents one moment in my life where I took a risk and got out there and did SOMETHING. The challenge of competing in ballroom is that I have to work with someone else for that achievement. I can’t just rely on myself which is my natural inclination to do. It’s a team effort and the challenge for me is to rise to the expectation of my partner and make him proud (whoever he is, instructor or otherwise) of what we are able to accomplish together. I want to feel as though I belong on the floor with the people I am competing with, and I don’t want to be the person who is automatically considered for last, but beyond that, I just want to be there and enjoy doing what I love to work for.

But that’s it.

I know I should probably have more concrete and specific goals, and ones that are more driven by reality than passion, but in the end it is just not what I want. I don’t want to limit myself. I just want to enjoy what I do.

As far as learning, I have no specific goals because I don’t know what I don’t know. As far as I am concerned, what I learn next or need to focus on is up to my instructor (even if in collaboration with others).  I just want to understand what I am trying to learn.

There are a lot of things I want to experience within the dance world.

 

Competing strong

Sorry for the delay in writing!

I have been busy beyond competing (more on that later) and this is the first opportunity I have had to write about the comp.  I did post some pics on facebook if you follow me there (www.facebook.com/bcballroomdancer).

Overall, this was my strongest competition since before I got sick. Hands down. That’s not to say it was my best dancing, but I felt prepared, my endurance (for the most part was there), I didn’t feel like I was dying after only a couple dances. I felt like I belonged on the floor and that I was competitive, not just dancing as something to do.

I won my closed gold multidance in Ballroom although it was a rule 10 and 11 win (meaning they had to split the tie twice more or less), and I am very proud of that–my first ‘win’ in closed gold! I was also 5th in both open scholarships of 6 couples and even stole a few points from those that placed above me in ballroom.

Ballroom was definitely the stronger of the two styles for me at this competition. Considering the amount of work I have been putting into it, it should have been, and it has paid off. I felt quite strong and confident in the ballroom heats, even though endurance was a challenge. I was surprised to see I received a 1 place mark in VW from one judge in a 5-dance championship that finished with the VW.

There were a lot of positives for me in standard. It took a round to settle down a little and adjust to things like my dress. At the start I was almost too relaxed in trying to keep myself calm and from trying too hard, but hit a good balance for the other rounds. Boss was really happy with how it all went, and I really have no complaints about standard. Yes, there are always little things, and lots to improve, but I was more consistent and solid in standard than I have been in any previous competition. That was a big win for me!

Latin was a much different story, and I am less impressed with my performance there. I had some very high points, and I had some lower ones. In one of my 4-dance gold multi-dances, I didn’t win the event, but I did sweep the rumba. Looking at the videos though, my styling still leaves much to be desired, and I just didn’t seem to be ‘finishing’ all my lines as I danced. My energy level was not where it needed to be for latin and I was having a hard time keeping focused.

So I own the less than stellar latin performance. It was good, but not my best. Among other things, I was having trouble feeling settled in my shoes, and I think the fatigue from standard the day before also played a role and upset my hormones a little bit (I was a hot flash queen that day).

That said, when it came to the 5-dance scholarship, I just went out and had some fun and worried less about trying to be perfect.

One of the biggest ‘wins’ I experienced overall was random strangers making an effort to tell me how much they enjoyed my dancing–seeking me out specifically in the crowd of competitors I was just on the floor with. For me, that is better than a thousand trophies and it happened after events in both standard and latin.

The biggest challenge I faced over the weekend was blisters. My shoes started out feeling wonderful, but then in the last afternoon event in standard I suddenly felt some pain. The result was 2 blisters on each foot, one on the heel, the other in the arch (which seemed a strange place). I put some blister pads on them for the scholarship and covered those with tap, but they didn’t stay in place. By the time I got to the latin scholarship, I had 11 blisters, all of which had popped, some of which were bleeding. I knew that breaking in new shoes would cause some problems (even old shoes can) and had taken some measures and preparations, but my feet seemed to just ‘give up’ in trying to keep skin. Even duct tape didn’t help. I am doing a lot of feet soaking these days.

My shoes are pretty much broken in now, but I won’t be able to tell until all the blisters heel if adjustments need to be made and where. Despite the blisters, they were more comfortable at the end of the comp. I also had issues with my feet swelling and that didn’t help either.

My latin shoes were the strangest to deal with. I had worked with them before I left and they felt fine. But at the comp the heel of my foot kept sliding out and I had a hard time getting the strap tight enough to hold it in place.  I am going to have to revisit them. I am wondering if they are too short in the end even though they are the same size as my last ones–but with a lower heel.

Hopefully in about 2 weeks I can do a good assessment with fresh feet.

The final ‘snag’ in the competition happened at the end of the standard rounds (and thankfully the end!). My dress is stretch velvet and when I am sweaty can be difficult to get the sleeves off.  I friend was helping me and when she pulled the arm I heard a ripping sound! Unfortunately, the dress tore just under the right arm, in the fabric just adjacent to the seam. Because the tear is in the fabric, I don’t know if it can be repairable without being too visible. It may be the end for that dress….an expensive tear!

In all, I am very proud of myself and how I danced this weekend–even latin. I wanted to be able to get through all my dances strongly, which I did, do well in standard (because of the focus we have been giving it), and enjoy dancing in latin. I achieved that. I know Boss is especially happy with the standard and we haven’t had a chance to discuss latin although we know there were challenges there.

The biggest achievement from the competition was being able to feel myself staying strong, and it has given us lots of feedback for the future 🙂

We should be sitting down to discuss the plan for the future over the next couple days, but mainly I am taking it easy right now. The exception, of course was that I had 3 coaching lessons with a standard coach yesterday that were a lot of fun and able to build on the competition. I will write about that shortly.

I will also write a review of the competition for those who might be interested in competing there some day. I would definitely recommend it and I think we are already making plans to return!

Achievement unlocked: Compete strong during recovery!

Trying to Remember What I Used to Know

Boss made an interesting observation tonight.

It was interesting in that it vocalized what had pretty much been going on in my head since I started back to dance–particularly in standard.

What he said is that he had observed that there were things I was doing pretty consistently before my surgery which I seemed to have forgotten about since I returned.

I have to agree with that, as one thing I have noticed during my lessons, particularly in standard, is that I have this scrambled feeling in my brain–like I am trying to grab onto all sorts of thoughts at the same time and translate that into my movements. As we move through different things, my mind jumps around from technical aspect to technical aspect to try and remember some of the things that were just on the cusp of becoming habits before surgery.

Different examples include allowing my feet to roll through the movements, stepping in CBMP going into turning figures (particularly natural figures), keeping my knees flexed, not turning out too far in promenade position and keeping my ribs forward to open up my position.

Boss has mentioned some of them, and some of them have come into my head as we review (although sometimes to the point of distracting me from other things I am supposed to be focusing on). I am sure there are still more I haven’t completely remembered. The biggest step seems to be remembering, and then consciously reworking them back into my dancing to remember the habit so I don’t have to think about them so much.

I hope, at least, that as things come up and we do more reviews, the ‘almost habits’ will slowly come back more consistently and continue building on what was developing before the surgery.

That said, today was a pretty productive lesson. We started with some of the standard drills that Boss has been developing for us to do together in Waltz and Tango. Both are made up of basic steps, but the point is to work through them using full technique and paying attention to all the details. In tango, it is also about developing some sharpness to the movement, and starting to differentiate between the different dances. That was just the warm-up, and from there we picked up where we left off yesterday with the Quickstep.

Thankfully, it seems my mind did process what we were trying to do yesterday and today I was better able to do what was needed in the hover corte.  I still hesitate a little in wanting to move my weight all the way over my right foot, but it is getting there more consistent. After reviewing that, we worked on the final step I needed to learn to finish the routine, which went quite well.  It will still need work, but I seem to have at least the basic understanding and we were able to do it in time and in some context.

We finished up working on foxtrot. When we worked with the coach last week, he made some small suggestions for changes in the final line of our routine, but we hadn’t had a chance to review it since then.  Tonight we went through it and refined it some.

Throughout my lessons, there are some small things Boss is drawing my attention to that apply through all routines and it gives me some detailed things to focus on as we work. One of the things I am discovering is that for a lot of the small points, while each has its own specifics, a recurring theme tends to be to let myself relax into things a little more and to try to not limit myself and the flow of movement. I tend to get rigid in some of my movements and in doing so, I don’t quite complete them.  It’s something to think about, and I wonder if that is part of the pre- and post-surgery difference–that I was starting to get move relaxed and confident about many of my techniques and the work I was doing, and now I am back to being more tentative again. I am almost trying too hard.

Which leads me to my final point tonight. I was going to stay and practice some after my lesson tonight, but at the end of my lesson, my entire body was screaming for a break and that it was done for the week, led by my knees which are quite inflamed between the return to dance, work and everything else. I have been trying to mitigate the flare up, but my success seems to be a little limited. I do have some ice, voltaren and tiger balm on them now to try to quiet them down.  I was told to expect this, I guess I am a little disappointed about how bad it is.

I didn’t stay and headed home as I can recognize that there is some bone-weariness creeping up on me, and my body needs the break.  I want to keep pushing, but my body isn’t ready for that yet and its a little frustrating. I am trying not to worry about it and let it get me down, but it is on my mind now and then. Part of me is afraid that this might be the beginning of going back to feeling as I was before surgery, although there is a distinct difference–particularly in energy level.  While I am tire and sore, I still have energy.  I am trying to have faith that it’s all normal and that with the break of the long weekend, and some planned rest, I will be ready to get back at things on Wednesday during my next lesson.

It’s not that I feel I have a lot to do, its more that there is a lot I want to do.

A lot I want to remember.

Back on the Floor!

Yes, finally!!

I was cleared to return to all activities yesterday, and I celebrated by having a lesson. 9 weeks until the competition, so a lot of work to do.

The lesson last night was very interesting and telling.

It ended up being later in the evening than I usually have a lesson and I was worried I would be too tired, but I was so anxious to get back on the floor I pushed it aside.

It was good that I did.

The start of the lesson was really really rough. We were working on standard since I have a couple coaching lessons this week and we started by reviewing and walking through our gold routines. I really felt like a wet blanket with no strength, and my mind was racing in about 50 different directions as my body tried to figure out what was going on. By the time we finished walking through the quickstep, I was honestly feeling quite panicked, and really couldn’t figure out what was going on.

We took a bit of a break before looking at specific parts of the routines that we will focus on for the coaching.

It turned out that break was what my mind needed to reconnect with my body and to trust that my body knew and was capable of doing what it needed.

After that, it was like the weight I have been carrying on my shoulders for the last 6 months disappeared. I felt my mind relax and organize itself, and as Boss and I prepared to work through one segment of our waltz, everything just came back together.

Actually, it came together better than it has in a longer time than I can remember.

It was like I needed the rough start for my mind to assess the state of my body and once it decided that all the movements were ok, it gave permission.  I could use my full strength and power, was able to move into full hold and to follow what Boss was doing. By the end of the lesson we were even traveling significantly more down the floor than we have in a very long time.

The best way I can describe the feeling is to say I felt free and free to dance. There wasn’t anything holding me back anymore–no hormone issues, no depression, no muscle weakness, no fuzzy head, and no fatigue.

In fact, I felt more energized after the lesson than I was before it–something that hasn’t happened since before I was diagnosed. I had honestly forgotten what that feels like.

I was able to ask my body to do things, and it responded–usually better than I expected, and much more than I have become used to.

Needless to say, I was pretty shocked and overwhelmed. I found confidence in my movement that had been missing for a very long time.

Aside from completely surprising myself, Boss seemed to be completely over the moon. I don’t think he has said he was pleased so many times in a lesson before. Considering how my previous recoveries and issues with treatments have gone, I can’t blame him–this ‘comeback’ is in a class by itself. He commented that I was dancing better than he was prepared for.

A lot of pieces that were only just swirling around in pieces before my surgery seemed to click into place while I was recovering. It’s a testament to how even when you have to take a break physically, mentally your mind may still be working. I could almost feel them all fall into place.

Of course, that’s not to say that everything was easy. It has been 6 weeks since I have really done any activity except light walking in the last 2 weeks. I was getting winded easy, and my pulse was racing. I could feel how out of shape and out of conditioning I am. It’s going to take a lot of work to get that moving forward again. While I could do full power in short segments, I know that attempting even one full routine at that power would be pretty draining. Overall, the lesson was fantastically terrible–a lot of success mixed with hard work that demonstrates there is a lot more to be done.

But its baby steps. The foundation is there. I achieve beyond my own goal in that lesson, in that after the initial ‘trial’, I was able to push myself fully through the rest of the lesson without giving up. While this lesson was hard, the next will be a little easier and I will be able to push longer and further.

It’s like remembering something from childhood–I know I used to be able to do it, but the details are fuzzy.

They are becoming more clear now.

I feel much more optimistic about the coaching on Wednesday, and my ability to get through 2 45 min lessons. The last time this coach was here, the work with him triggered a few things falling into place in standard that had been eluding me, and I am hopeful at something similar may be possible this time too. We (and by ‘we’, I mean Boss) have a good plan for things to work on, and if it is even remotely similar to last night, it’s going to be fun.

Fun. There’s a word I haven’t used in relation to dance in a long time. It feels good. Fun.

After last night’s lesson, I expected to wake up sore, especially in the surgical area, and completely tired and drained today from so much effort last night.

In another surprise, I woke up with tons of energy after sleeping better than I have in quite some time, and while I am moderately sore in the muscles I haven’t used in a long time, my belly and abdomen feel the same as they did before the lesson yesterday.

I am sooooo pleased to not have adverse after-effects! (I was pretty worried).

I expect my upper back, shoulder and leg muscles will be a little more sore tomorrow, but nothing unusual.

As a bonus to all of this, my doctor and I decided this morning to stop the anti-depressants, and see how it goes. The last 3 days I have been feeling symptoms of being over medicated again, and since I am on the lowest dose now, the next step is to stop and see how I feel in 2 weeks once my system has adjusted.  I can always go back if I need them. It’s the last of the medications I had to take to counter-act side effects of the hormone therapy.

In fact, I am now officially back to taking only the medications I was taking before I was diagnosed (actually one less, since one was a hormone supplement), one for insomnia, one for allergies. It’s another way to feel free.

Something else I haven’t mentioned which may be contributing to the increase in energy I am having–since the surgery I have lost 10 of the 40 lbs I gained during treatment, with only small diet changes on my part. Finally, it seems my body is ready to get fit again. It’s something I will need to stay on top of, but it’s the first real weight progress I have seen in over a year, and I finally feel motivated again to keep focusing on it.

In a lot of ways, my life is finally starting to resemble what it was pre-cancer, and I hope the momentum I now have continues to keep me moving forward. I am back to work next week, and looking forward to it. I have almost finished the 5th course for my masters.

And now I feel like I am ready and capable of getting back to fully dancing again.

Even more, I feel like I can really hope again.

It’s been a long time coming.

Why compete?

Why, indeed.

After sorting through thoughts in my last post, I guess I realized I need to figure out what drives me to compete, or rather what makes a competition interesting or worth competing in.

  • Competitions give me a real and tangible goal within a set time period.

I am a very goal-oriented person and having a competition to prepare for gives me something to focus on and a specific time within which to do it.  I need that to feel grounded in my dancing.  It’s not about specific goals within my dancing, but giving something to aim for.

  • Competitions set time frames for measuring progress.

It’s not really about how much progress is made between competitions, but more about having a definitive time to evaluate. It’s an opportunity to record my dancing under pressure and to compare it with previous videos.

  • Competitions help me feel structured in my dancing.

Along with being goal-oriented, I need structure, and really don’t do well if I feel there is no rhyme or reason to what I am doing. Competing gives me that structure–there are levels, others to compare to, things to evaluate.

  • The impact of a competition should reflect the price.

It doesn’t make sense to spend a large amount to attend a small competition, where I may be alone on the floor. It also doesn’t make sense to spend a small amount to attend a large competition that I have to travel to. The two parts need to balance and sometimes this can be the trickiest part. There are never any guarantees.

  • It’s not a competition if I am alone.

In order to compete, there needs to be someone to compete against. There is competitiveness in my nature, although its not always evident and I can say I am not comfortable with it. While I see the value in comparing my dancing against what I did at previous events, there is an element to competing with others on the floor that increases the drive to do well. It’s motivating.

  • Competitions motivate me.

There is something about competing that motivates and drives me more than just performing or social dancing. There is a thrill to it, and in many ways it is the time I feel comfortable acknowledging that I have done something well. It’s when I allow myself to really give myself credit, but it also gives an external justification too. It’s someone who doesn’t see me dancing all the time giving approval (or sometimes signalling problems).

  • Competing is the reward I give myself for hard work.

While I have lots of personal reasons for wanting to work hard, wanting to do well at a competition also plays a part. Competitions are something I earn. I work hard to save the money to attend, so I also owe it to myself to work hard to prepare for them. Competitions are an opportunity to have fun after putting in the hard work to prepare. Because I know I have worked hard, when I go to compete I can just enjoy the full experience, including traveling, the showcases/performances, and knowing I have done well.

Looking at this list, I can see where most of my recent competitions, and even my preparation for them have missed the mark for me. I also see that one of the things I experienced the most in the past 6 months was preparing for my silver test, which is very telling. Once my last competition was over, I felt very lost and aimless until the test prep started.

Part of me is scared about returning to dance without having decided on a competition goal. I am worried that for one reason or another, my next competition will be once again one of the same local competitions I have been doing for the last 2.5 years.

I am very worried deep down that if I can’t settle on some goals, especially for competing, I will lose the motivation I have gained following the surgery, and I will start to question why I dance–a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down again.

I feel like I lost some of the reasons why I dance in recent months, really since my mastectomies and reconstruction and all the issues with the hormone therapy. I got stagnant and I want to break that cycle. More than that, I need to break that cycle. I feel like I call myself a competitive dancer, but I have no right to since I never really compete.

I feel like I am pretending. Perhaps that is the root of the problem.

It’s time to get back on a full competition floor.

Mixed Messages

“You can ask me any question about technique that you want.”

Except I can’t.

Boss said this last night at my lesson.  Two months ago he told me that I wasn’t allowed to ask any questions and that I should just do what he tells me, because he is the instructor and I am only the student.

(On a side note, he told me this at the same time he told me he is my instructor and not the Boss of my dancing.  I don’t think he realizes I am not his only student to refer to him this way and neither was I the first–its a habit I picked up from another of is students)

I don’t know how to ask questions without making him feel like I am undermining him as an instructor, though lord knows I have tried.

While its an interesting olive branch, history has shown me that whenever I ask questions it inevitably leads to conflict between us because one of 3 things happen (or sometimes all 3):

  1. He dismisses my question and says it either doesn’t matter or is something I ‘don’t need to worry about’.
  2. He assumes I am asking because I am trying to rush progress.
  3. He assumes that by asking I am really saying ‘Forget everything you think I should focus on and focus on only this instead because I want to’.

Very rarely is it numbers 2 or 3, and number 1 just leads me to frustration.  Whether a topic matters to him or not, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important to me and frequently on my mind (and sometimes interfering with other things I am working on).

More often than not, the question comes because I have observed something and am curious about it. Sometimes its related to a small personal project I am working on and I just need a bit of direction to know where to start to begin to work it out for myself.  Sometimes it is related to something else I am working on that my mind has latched on to and won’t let go.

An example–right now one of my exercises is rumba basic and focusing on making sure I step, then settle.  The biggest issue with this is when I step back with my right foot–I have a tendency to step there already settled with no way else to move my hip.  Its taken a lot of experimentation, but slowly I have found a way to step back on a straight leg without having my hip settled. This has led me to consider other steps where I step backwards, and to wonder about how to actually do rumba steps backwards, something I don’t recall working on in international rumba (I did it a lot in rhythm, but very different technique).  Its drawn my attention to the issue to the point that when I do figures with multiple back steps (like aida or reverse top) I find myself distracted by noticing I am not stepping right and trying to figure out how to fix it.  I have tried just walking backwards, but for whatever reason I can’t figure it out–there seems to be a big piece I am missing. In fact, it feels as though what I am doing might lead to injury of my hip as some of the movements I am trying to do are sometimes painful.

But if I ask Boss about that, he will likely think I am asking him to change my exercises or what he wants me to focus on (currently it seems to be forward steps), or he will tell me its something I don’t need to worry about right now.

But on the other hand, he has mentioned several times that my back steps in latin are not good, and while watching videos he has pointed out how others move backwards.

So I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place and mostly I just sort of wait and hope he will notice what is frustrating me and decide to address it.  Because I am not allowed to know his plan, I also have no way to know if my questions will just get naturally addressed when we get to that topic (if we get to that topic).

The rumba back steps are just one of the things I find myself wondering about and wanting to work on by myself.  I have time now since changing my practice schedule but I do feel like I don’t know where to start to work on them.  I am unsure enough that I am concerned I will teach myself wrong and develop bad habits or worse injure myself with bad technique.

But despite what Boss said at my lesson yesterday, I have been ‘bitten’ enough by questions being misinterpreted that I don’t feel I can ‘ask anything’ about technique–or anything really. I just don’t want to risk opening a giant can of worms.

So I wait and hope things will resolve themselves, and try not to let myself get too impatient or frustrated.

I can either ask questions or I can’t.

I don’t see how it can be both ways.

Racing thoughts

Ever feel like there is so much going through your mind you can’t quite catch it all?

That is what I felt like after dance last night.  Not necessarily a bad thing, it just seemed like a lot of pieces ‘clicked’ into place.  At the same time, I am not entirely sure that what has ‘clicked’ is right.

It started in my own practice. One of the exercises I had been struggling with just seemed to come together.  In the process, I tore the suede off of both my heel protectors on my shoe, but I glued them back on after practice.  It was back steps in standard.  For whatever reason, everything I had been struggling to do came together and I was able to move through the steps in one fluid movement instead of broken up into pieces.

When I got to my lesson, I still had some exercises to go through that we didn’t get to at the last lesson, but Boss wanted to have a look again at what I was doing in samba and cha cha lock steps, to make an adjustment to how I am stepping forward.  Essentially, my goal now in stepping forward in both exercises is to focus on keeping the leg as straight as possible and my upper body over it.  I hadn’t been focusing on it before, mostly because I was focusing on other things (and thought I was supposed to do differently), but once I did it a couple of times, it just made sense.  In my mind I was actually thinking ‘why didn’t you just say so’, but sometimes that is just how things go. I am not really sure if the same idea applies to rumba, or if I am already doing it.

After the exercises, we were working on a section in tango that is basically a contra check between two different fallaways.  What was interesting about it was that it gave me an opportunity to experiment a little with my position to get a better idea of what is closer to right, versus well into wrong.  By the time we finished, I had a much better idea of what I needed to do, but also what I could allow myself to do, such as settling down into my knees for stability.  I have a habit of ending leaning back when I close my feet, and not noticing until I stop moving.  I noticed though that part of the problem was I was closing my feet completely together instead of offset which affected my balance.  Once I started off-setting them, the issue got better.  Still have to keep an eye on it though.

My right foot is slowly coming in line, but I have to stay on top of it to keep it from turning out. Overall, more than a few pieces fell into place for tango.

After tango, we worked on the section in waltz we have been doing with a spin turn to turning locks to the right.  Mostly I was doing it on my own to try to get some better control over what I was doing, and to figure out a little bit of the alignments, but we were also doing it together.  In contrast to what I am doing in latin, one of the challenges in waltz is to NOT straighten my knees too much and to keep them bent and flexible.

The other challenge is trickier.  I am still warring with myself about how much I can do.  I can tell I am still being cautious most of the time–even when I intend not to be–and I am still trying to find what I would call a ‘new’ comfort level.  Usually what happens is I push myself outside my comfort zone, then freak myself out, and scale it back.  Trying to find that balance is still eluding me, but in many ways I guess knowing is half the battle.

Later on last night, I had a bit of a revelation, although it could be completely wrong.  I was going through my rumba routine in my head, and thinking about how it would work with the lead and follow.  Somewhere it occurred to me that perhaps when my hip goes back and my upper body goes forward, then the resistance through my arm from my should should follow what my upper body is doing.  I don’t know if it’s right or not–it could be the opposite of what I need, but what is significant to me is that I am finally starting to connect the lead/follow with movements my body makes, instead of just guessing.  I am just not quite sure which movement should determine the direction of the follow–my hips or upper body.

It’s interesting how things seem to just suddenly come together.

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.

Another Surgery….

I have been quiet while having to deal with some health issues related to the hormone therapy.

I found out today that I will be having a total hysterectomy end June/early July.  The sincere hope is that once my ovaries are gone, my hormones will settle down and I can get back to feeling like myself again.

In the meantime, the hormone therapy has more or less crashed my entire system.  Because stopping the hormone therapy is not an option (the shot lasts until May), I have had to be treated with medication for the side effects.  Almost 4 weeks later, I seem to be finally starting to get to a functional point.

I say functional.  The psychiatrist who is treating me calls it ‘presenteeism’–it’s one step up from absenteeism.  Instead of being absent from my life, I am there, just not really participating.

To be perfectly honest, I have never felt worse in my life–including during chemo, radiation, and after surgery.  And I feel helpless to do anything about it, I can only manage it.

Slowly, the mental health issues are improving, but unfortunately the physical ones are not.  I am exhausted.  I am ready for bed at 6 pm after a full day of work.  It takes almost 12 hours for me to feel refreshed.  When I am awake, my energy is fairly fleeting.  It has improved a little in the last week (likely due to the medication), but it is still very restrictive.  I also ache all over.  If you have ever had aches from a fever, that is what I feel like all the time.  That in itself is exhausting.  Usually by 2 pm I have to take some ibuprofen to take the edge off.  I also have frequent headaches and right now the hot flashes are fairly frequent.

At least now, I have a general time frame to aim for when things might get better.  I say might because there is no way to know how my body will respond to surgical menopause versus chemical menopause, but there is a good chance that without my ovaries causing fluctuating hormone levels, things will stabilize and be more controllable.

This also makes very real for me something I have been avoiding–I will never have children.  It was highly unlikely before, but this makes it an absolute ‘no’. In many ways I am grieving for the children I will never have, and I have to acknowledge and give myself time to do that.

To be perfectly honest, I am not really sure if I ever would have had children or if it was something I wanted to do, but I took comfort in having the option. There is a lot more to that, but there are some things I need to keep to myself :).

I do have some dance news.

After I decided to stop dancing, I did go and advertise for a partner in the area where I live.  The response, I am sad to say was two offers for sex and one guy who was genuinely interested in dance, but who also was looking more for a relationship.  It was disappointing, but not really more than I expected, to be honest.

I had a fairly significant breakdown shortly after making my decision.

As part of that, I spent a lot of time discussing dance and what it means to me with my health care professionals.  They encouraged me to reevaluate and to talk to another dancer in the community.  They also pointed out that since my system was so depressed, no matter how much I might want to, I would never be able to see the good side to dance, only the bad.

It took a lot of talk, both with an amateur dancer who has also had breast cancer and previously danced pro/am herself when her partner was unwell, and talking with Boss, in addition to the health care professionals.

In the end, I decided to start writing.  I wrote about what led me to dance, what I enjoy about it, what I want from it, where I am, where I want to be, what I think of pro/am, how I want to learn–in short, 10 pages about dance, going through everything.

It was the most comprehensive evaluation of dance I have ever done, and it occurred to me that throughout my sickness I have had to reevaluate almost every area of my life–but I have never reevaluated dance.

It was long overdue, and it revealed a lot about what I really want and it is quite different from what I was doing and the direction I was going.

I don’t want to say more on that for now, but the evaluation is on-going.

One of the biggest obstacles I am encountering right now is actually the lack of energy, but I hope it will get better.

We shall see.  But now I seem to have something of a timeline for when this nightmare might end.

And so I fight on…