The Dance: Celebrating Life Through Breast Cancer
Caren: When I exercise, I feel very powerful. I feel in charge of my body.
I feel like something that’s; I have total control over in my life because sometimes in life, life controls you.
Two years before I was diagnosed, I was divorced, and it was… it was very traumatic. And it caused a lot of… anxiety and anger and stress in my mind and my body. I just left my self-esteem a little bit down.
They put the expanders in, and I went every few weeks to get them stretched, and finally, he said you’re ready. And I said, okay, make me a B cup, that’s all I want to be is a B cup, and I came out of there like in a D. Which was ridiculous; I’m five-foot-one, I weigh 100 pounds — D breasts don’t fit on me. They were just too big, and that’s all you saw. That’s all I saw. I’d look in the mirror; that’s all I saw. So when I went to him for a checkup, and I said these are just too big. I didn’t ask you to make them this big; how are you gonna fix this? He just said to me, “I don’t know.”
My left breast was fine and was where it was supposed to be; it was fine. My right breast was up here on my shoulder because it wouldn’t push down. So it was quite disfigured, quite disfigured. Started seeking other alternatives because I didn’t want to go back to her. I had four surgeries with her in four months, and that really wreaks havoc on your body. All the antibiotics, all the anesthesia, it’s, and plus the fact that she was doing a very poor job. After every surgery, I couldn’t lift my arms up, and I couldn’t lift more than five pounds, so I didn’t exercise at all. I didn’t wear clothes the way they were supposed to be worn because of the way my breasts were. I don’t think I went out on any dates during that time. I went out with my friends, but I wore big shirts, mostly in black, that wouldn’t show anything. But yeah, for two years, my social life just halted. I didn’t feel good about the way I looked. I didn’t feel good about myself. I didn’t feel good about what was happening.
I contacted them, and I sent them all my pictures and all my medical records. I talked to Dr. Dellacroce; he assured me, “I can do this. You are in perfect hands with me. I can fix this for you, and you will be whole again.” He gave me hope, he just gave me hope, and he made me feel confident that he could do it.
I just felt normal again. I had two breasts in the right place; they were symmetrical, they were the same size, they were even, and they were where they were supposed to be. I got back to my activities as soon as I could get back to them, and I started living my life again. I always wanted to be a dancer. Between the divorce and the breast cancer, I had to explore new things from my life that would be my own. When I would watch dancing, my body just came alive it just felt something. There’s a connection; it’s a connection with another person. For me, it’s just a feeling of being in sync with someone; having that connection is really important to me. I feel very comfortable with how I look and how I move, so when I’m out dancing socially, and I feel myself, my mind, drifting and getting away from the dance, I close my eyes, and it takes me right back. Because all you can do is go by feel, and that’s not something I do; I think a lot. I am very grateful for this whole journey because it’s bigger than the breast cancer.
I am a runner. I run because I can. I am grateful for legs that carry me for miles, for a heart that keeps pumping step after step and for a mind that tells me I can do this. I love when the run ends because I know I accomplished another goal, another mile, another milestone.
I am a dancer. I’ve always been a dancer even before my first step, my first cha-cha, my first salsa. I’ve felt a connection with every dancer I’ve ever seen. I must have been a dancer in a past life. I remember being mad at my mom because she didn’t give me ballet lessons growing up. It doesn’t matter though, I am a dancer.
I’m in love with dancing. I dance because I want to, I dance because I can, but mostly I dance because I have to. Dancing, quite simply, makes me happy. Pure happiness, uncompromising happiness, non-judgmental happiness. Dancing gave meaning to “living in the moment” for me. All the self-help books that tell you to live in the moment – I had no idea what that meant until I danced. Until I realized I didn’t care what time it was, it didn’t matter what was coming next, only this moment of movement mattered. Then the next moment and the next. One at a time with no regard for what was before or what was coming after. This was one of those true ‘aha’ times in my life, when I realized, spinning in the middle of that dance floor, that only this spin mattered and I let it carry me to the next spin and the next until it led me to another beautiful movement where my body glided across the floor with grace and rhythm and joy. I realized I was, at last, living in the moment.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer was also one of those moments. Nothing existed except those four words, you have breast cancer, and the world stopped. There was nothing before and nothing to come – just that moment of disbelief, shock, numbness. All these moments aren’t necessarily good ones. This was just a different dance.
Living in the moment was always an abstract concept to me. I couldn’t grasp the meaning, although I had unknowingly done it before. Skiing down a beautiful white slope with nothing in front of me except for wide open spaces. I lived in that moment the entire way down. Lying on the bed with this incredible man talking, laughing, kissing. Not caring if the laundry was done or dinner was cooking. Being there in that moment with him was all there was. I lived and loved in those moments. I just didn’t know I was doing it at the time.
My life was always so caught up in hoping the next moment would be better than the one I was in that I didn’t take time to realize how great life actually was if only I’d stopped to breathe. To be aware. To acknowledge. To be grateful.
We must stop to breathe. Breath is life. Life is the dance. We all must dance, whatever that is for you, we need the dance. We need that love of something that transcends us, we need that place where nothing else matters, we need a passion in our lives that makes us forget the world even if only for a few moments. An escape from reality – it’s always waiting for us so why not take a break and live in your own moment.
I love the way Garth put it – “I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”
For me The Dance is quite literally, The Dance. It’s also my life, which although painful at times, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. My kids are The Dance – grateful beyond any words that these two perfect human beings are mine. My family is The Dance, my friends, my job, my house, the food I eat, the air I breathe, all The Dance. Breast cancer – also The Dance. I could have missed that pain but I would have missed knowing me, finding my strengths, sharing my life, making a difference and realizing how truly, completely blessed I am. I have discovered unknown joy, hidden passions, extraordinary love. Born of pain, perhaps. I wouldn’t be me without it though.
There is no way to always miss the bad stuff. There is a way to see the bad as a vessel to the good, to turn the pain to triumph, to make the next moment as fabulous as the last. Our lives are not completely left to chance, we have choices to make and doors to open. Some pain may be inevitable. We can’t have all the answers before the questions are even asked. The sun comes up every day though, turning darkness into light. Celebrate your life! Every day you open your eyes is a good one! Jump out of bed, turn up the music and dance!