If we are connected in real life or on social media, you likely already know this.

I have been diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. (EDIT: On 1/16/16, my doctor stepped back that diagnosis to Stage 3B. I’m not quite sure what makes them different, but, full disclosure.)

I’m shocked. I’m guessing you were too when you heard it. “She’s so healthy/young/active/etc”. And yet, here we are. I am now the “Dancer with Cancer”. Catchy tagline, don’t you think?

Dancer with Cancer

Thanks to La Ren Originals for this photo.

The past few weeks have been very difficult for me. Due to surgeries on my hips and chest, I was unable to do full-out dancing. Plus, I have tumors on my spine, ruling out jumping and rolling on the floor, 2 things frequently found in my dances. The chemo can make people sick, so I have limited any performing until I know how I will react. I’m struggling with issues of identity- who am I, now that I am not a dancer or teacher, at least at the level at which I have come to expect from myself. Who do we become, when the person and life we have created are no longer viable options? (These ideas still need some fleshing out, and will become their own blog post.)

Being diagnosed with cancer has not made me suddenly wise. If anything, it has shown me how much I don’t know. Not just about the world, but about myself and my body, subjects with which I thought myself to be intimately acquainted.

But I have learned a few things, and I wanted to share them with you.

  • You are the world’s foremost authority on you. For months (8, in fact) before I had a diagnosis, I knew something was wrong. I tried food and herbal based remedies. I made doctor’s appointments. I got acupuncture and massage. I took naps. But no matter what I tried, something was just “off”. I would feel better for a while, or my symptoms would subside, but I still just didn’t feel like myself. So I kept pushing the doctors for appointments. I kept trying new things to help myself. Finally, I got to where I needed to be. To a doctor who knew within 5 minutes of talking to me and examining me exactly what I had. But I had to advocate for myself.  So often women do not do this. We are “polite” or “nice”. We don’t want to “rock the boat” or “hurt anyone’s feelings”. We don’t ask for what we feel we really need. We take “No” for an answer far too often. We let doctors (or bosses or significant others or internet commenters)  talk down to us because they are the authority. No. No they are not. YOU are the authority on YOU. This goes for mental and emotional health, not just physical. If something doesn’t feel right, ask questions, get help, try new ways of approaching and addressing the problem until it does. YOU are the only one who knows how YOU feel. You have a responsibility to yourself, body and soul, to listen to and address those feelings.
  • Nutrition and Exercise are VITAL. Vital= life-giving. The only reason I made it through my days of demanding physical activity, even when I was not feeling well, was because of how I was supporting myself nutritionally and physically. My oncologist called me “ridiculously healthy”. Except, you know, for the cancer part. Turns out even good nutrition and exercise can’t fix everything. But it does do a damn good job of keeping it under control. My doctors have told me that most people in my condition would not be able to do what I do every day. Even during treatment, I (so far) have not had to give up any of my teaching jobs. Food is not just fuel. Food is medicine. Or it can be. Feed your body with things that promote LIFE. I tried to eat cleanly and well before, but now, I’ve become even more vigilant. And I’ve learned a lot about what to eat to fight cancer, boost immunity, and promote overall health.

    Nutritions choices

    A quick run down:

    • Garlic
    • Onions
    • Ginger
    • Turmeric
    • Cruciferous vegetables
    • No meat unless it is hormone-free, grass-fed
    • Only Omega-3 eggs
    • Beets (I’m having trouble with this one, as I think beets are gross. But I’m trying.)

Exercise can be medicine, too. Joseph Pilates wrote, back in 1938, about active breathing and raising the heart rate to cleanse the body and stimulate the mind. Plus, the endorphins just help you feel better.

  • Sleep is also vital. This is where I really dropped the ball with my health before. I’d be up early to teach and out late either teaching, rehearsing, or performing. Your body needs rest to heal and refresh. I know this isn’t news to you. It wasn’t to me either. But I wasn’t following it. I thought I was fine. I thought I was the person who could get through without too much sleep, because I was getting through my day. I was eating right and exercising, so getting only 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night was OK. It wasn’t. The body needs sleep to heal. I had/have an incredibly active schedule, and over-exercise can cause an inflammatory response in the body.

    Restful Sleep

    Sleep is a way for the body to treat inflammation (as well as any other dis-ease, infection, etc.) Stress is can also cause inflammatory responses in the body, and sleep is a way to relieve the body of stress. Cognitive function also declines with lack of sleep, and can cause mistakes or errors in judgement that affect our health. For more on the importance of sleep, check out this great podcast!

  • Your life is your life. This is such a simple, obvious sentence. And so very difficult to live. This may be an issue more for women or than men. Or maybe just me. I seek approval. I don’t want to disappoint. I want everyone to be happy, to be proud of me. But, I can’t make everyone happy. Heck, sometimes I don’t even make myself happy. But, I do the best I can, making the choices in front of me, with the information I have.  The Mormons have a philosophy that we have to have a body to make choices with, and making choices is the only way to fulfill our purpose here on earth (this is a very simplified, and not complete version of this tenant of their faith). While, I’m not a Mormon, I like this thought. We and our bodies are making choices. (I learned this in a very funny book, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance: A Memoir, that I received as a care package gift from one of my college roommates. It is hilarious, even if you are not Mormon, or single.) No one else gets to tell you how or why to live. These are choices you need to make for yourself. Your past history and current experiences can lead you through these choices. Other people can offer their opinions, but in the end, that’s all they are. Their opinions. It’s still your choice. Don’t give away your power over your life by letting someone else choose for you. Claim your power and choose your life. 

I hope this helps you. It at least helped me to write it. I get to claim more power in my life by recognizing my mistakes and my knowledge. I’ll remind one more time: Claim your power power, choose your life.