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Guest Perspectives: Dancing Through Cancer

September 16, 2019
In learning how to manage life with cancer, I no longer take anything in life for granted.”

I was just one month shy of my college graduation. After years of hard work, I was closer than ever to achieving my dream of becoming a professional dancer. I felt prepared to overcome any obstacle – but I never expected cancer to be one of them.

A trip to the doctor for what I thought was stress turned out to be something very different. I had an extremely high white blood cell count, and after several tests and a bone marrow biopsy, I was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML.

Processing this diagnosis was difficult. I was 22. I had cancer. I would always have cancer.

Not only was I struggling to navigate what this meant for me in the short-term, managing dance, class work, and my cancer treatments, but I was also forced to think about what my diagnosis meant for my future – my long-term health, my career, and my family and loved ones.

One month after my diagnosis in April 2017, I started an oral chemotherapy drug. My bones frequently became achy, with pain beginning in my molars and extending to my collar bone, elbows, pelvis, and feet. Everything hurt, and for a few weeks I struggled to even walk up the stairs.

Throughout my treatment, I continued dancing, but it was no secret I was nearing exhaustion, reeling from the physical and emotional side effects of my illness. As a dancer, I was used to pushing my body through exhaustion every day. Now, I struggled with knowing when my body truly needed a break.

My oncologist, M. Yair Levy, M.D., of Texas Oncology–Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center, helped me manage my side effects and expressed the importance of rest and compliance with my treatment. With this guidance, I learned living with a chronic illness and managing a physically demanding professional career required balance. Dr. Levy said that strictly following my treatment regimen would provide me with an excellent chance of living similarly to someone without CML, and there was a small chance I may even be able to go off treatment.

What’s different about CML is that it’s with you for the rest of your life. It’s with me every day – at work, with friends, and in relationships. I was constantly worried about how cancer might affect my professional and personal life – having to disclose a form of disability, getting regular blood work, and taking daily medication.

I’ve been lucky to have a strong support system, from my dance company and colleagues, to my friends and family. I’ve also been fortunate to find a sturdy, loving partner in my ongoing fight, who is now my fiancé –I never would have thought marriage would be in my future in living with CML. This unending support has helped me tremendously as I continue to navigate this disease and what it means for me. It has even inspired me to start attending the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual Light Up the Night event, supporting survivors and others who are still fighting.

In learning how to manage life with cancer, I no longer take anything in life for granted. I’m proactive in helping my body physically with a plant-based diet and mentally with stress-reducing exercises. I continue to take a targeted therapy drug every day, see my oncologist regularly, monitor my treatment response, and am grateful to be side-effect free for nearly two years. Most importantly, I’m still doing what I love most – dancing.

The information included in this testimonial is based on one patient’s unique experience and is not intended to represent all patient outcomes or expectations.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.