Cancer Patients

Just Keep Dancing

 

The following is the latest post in the series Donna’s Journey, which follows Donna’s story as she lives with cancer.

Why I Dance

More than a year ago, I rang the bell after my last round of radiation. I thought I’d put cancer behind me. Looking back at my experience with treatment, chemo, surgery, and radiation, I wondered if it had all been just a bad dream.

But I’d made it through with little discomfort and time off work. I credited my “not-so-bad” experience to a lot of prayer, a good medical team, and a positive attitude.

I knew not every cancer patient was so lucky. During my treatments, I saw patients receiving chemotherapy dressed in their work clothes because they had to report to a factory right after. My heart ached for them, as the treatments are mentally and physically exhausting. So I was honored when The Pink Fund asked me to dance as a survivor to raise money for the charity.

A breast cancer diagnosis can severely impact a family’s income due to inability to work. The Pink Fund provides financial support to help meet basic needs, decrease stress levels, and allow the patient to focus on healing. The Pink Fund’s Dancing With the Survivors event raises money for those undergoing treatment who might need help to meet their primary bills, keep their households afloat during treatment, and relieve the financial stress on the family.

I chose to dance because I was blessed to be able to work throughout my journey. I wanted to help those still struggling.

 

Training Pains

I was paired with a dance professional who choreographed and taught me a dance to perform. This was about 18 months after my treatment, and there was no evidence of disease. But during my dance lessons, I began having lower back pain. I thought it was due to my post-cancer regimen; I was supposed to take a maintenance drug for 10 years to keep the cancer at bay.

Donna is all smiles while learning the foxtrot

Two side effects from the maintenance medicine are joint pain and weight gain. I was sure the weight gain I experienced was due to the medication—it couldn’t have been my diet! I was determined to convince the doctor to get me off that drug. On my next visit, I told him about my back pain and inability to lose weight. He thought the culprits were diet choices, lack of exercise, and arthritis. Nevertheless, he erred on the side of caution and ordered a bone scan.

 

What No One Expected

The scan showed lesions on the bones in my sacrum and L5 vertebrae. I’d had a recurrence—something every cancer survivor dreads. I moved from living with cancer in the rearview mirror to having it splattered all over my windshield like rain in a thunderstorm.

In an instant, I graduated from Stage 3 survivor to Stage 4 active patient.

Hearing I had an incurable disease was a punch in the gut. All the feelings from my diagnosis came rushing back— this time multiplied by thousands and substantiated by gloomy statistics.

This time it felt like a death sentence. I cried, told my husband, and gathered our family to share the news. The love in the room poured out that day—mostly through tears. My family experienced the gut-wrenching blow of the news, but we knew we would journey through this together. At that moment, I knew I had their unconditional support and love. That makes it easier to embark on the journey.

My doctor rallied my medical team and started me on radiation, hoping to thwart the growth of the cancer and providing relief of the lower back pain. As I move forward, I will be under surveillance to be sure that the treatments remain effective. When a treatment starts to lose effectiveness, we will move to another.

The medical team told me that, while there is no cure for breast cancer when it metastasizes to the bone, my treatments should put the cancer in remission for a long time. With these medications, I can still enjoy a relatively normal life. I like that plan!

When I begin the medications, I will receive them through Diplomat. When I started working here, I never thought I would be a patient. I know I’ll be in good hands thanks to Diplomat’s commitment to patients.

Learning about the various treatments available changed my view on my diagnosis from a death sentence to just living with cancer. I’m not saying it will all be a walk in the park, but it is not doom and gloom. It’s about living—even dancing—with cancer.

 

Video courtesy of The Pink Fund

 

Dance Therapy

My self-image took a hit during my first battle with cancer. I think every breast cancer patient goes through a personal struggle. We want people to see past the cancer. We want to be ourselves again—for someone to say we look beautiful without sympathy in their eyes.

Working with Donald, my dance coach, helped me remember what it was to feel beautiful. We tackled the dance (a foxtrot) in sections and built the choreography as we went along, adding a little each week. We chose the song The Way You Look Tonight (the Maroon 5 rendition). It was such a boost to my self-image to dance to lyrics celebrating a woman’s beauty, outside and in.

The new diagnosis came during our weeks of practice. Luckily, since my pain is more intense when I am sedentary, I felt much better when I moved. Dancing was my therapy as I came to grips with this news.

 

Hello again!It has been quite a while since I have posted on this page. Quite simply, everything had been going well and I felt like the cancer was just a distant memory. I have looked back at my experience with treatment, chemo, surgery and radiation and wondered if it was all just a bad dream! Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was very real, but as I said in previous posts, it was tolerable. I had made it through the treatment with little discomfort and time off of work. I credited my “not-so bad” experience to a lot of prayer, a good medical team and a positive attitude. After the treatments were completed I continued on a maintenance drug to keep the cancer at bay; this was to be my regimen for the next 10 years.So where am I now?So there I was 18 months post treatment, NED (no evidence of disease) and having some lower back pain. Two of the side effects from the maintenance medicine is joint pain and weight gain – I was sure the weight gain I experienced was due to the medication it certainly couldn’t have been my diet! I was determined to convince the doctor to get me off of that drug! On my next visit I told him about the inability to lose weight and the back pain, he examined me, but thought it was likely diet choices, little exercise and arthritis that were the culprits to my woes. Nevertheless, he decided to err on the side of caution and ordered a bone scan just to be sure. He and I were both surprised when the results of the bone scan came back showing lesions on the bones in my sacrum and L5 vertebrae. This meant that I had a “recurrence” something that every cancer survivor dreads hearing. It meant that I moved from living with cancer in the rearview mirror to it being all over my windshield like the rain in a thunderstorm! It was back, the disease progressed; I graduated from Stage 3 survivor to a Stage 4 active patient in an instant.It was like a punch in the gut to hear that I had an incurable disease. All the feelings that I had when I was first diagnosed came rushing back, only multiplied by thousands and this time substantiated by gloomy statistics. This time it did feel like a death sentence. I cried, told my husband then in normal fashion dug into the details. Once we met with the doctor and solidified a treatment plan we again gathered the family to share the news. The love in the room poured out that day, mostly in the form of tears – but it was easy to identify that it was love. They also experienced the gut wrenching blow from this news but as a family we knew that we would journey through this together. I knew at that moment that I had their unconditional support and love, which makes the upcoming journey easier to embark on.Treatment-My doctor quickly rallied the usual suspects of my medical team and started this round of treatment with radiation. The hope with radiation was to thwart the growth of the cancer and to provide some relief to the lower back pain that I was experiencing. Next will be to get my hormones through menopause so that oral chemotherapy drugs will be more effective. I will be under continued surveillance to be sure that the treatments remain effective. Once a treatment starts to lose effectiveness we will move to another treatment. The medical team has informed me that while there is not cure for when breast cancer metastasizes to the bone, the plan is for treatments to put the cancer in remission for a long time. With these medications, I can still enjoy a relatively normal life. I like that plan! Learning about the various treatments and options that are available certainly change my view on my diagnosis from death sentence to just living with cancer. I’m not saying that these will all be a walk in the park, but it is not doom and gloom! It is not putting life into a time measurement to the end but planning a journey to live! Living!I had found out the news of my recurrence while I was training for The Pink Fund’s Dancing With The Survivors event. (Video in this post is from the event.) I was paired with a dance professional who choreographed and taught me a dance to perform. The event happens annually and raises money for women that are impacted by loss of income during active treatment. The Pink Fund provides help to these women with their household expenses so that they can focus on healing. Unfortunately, so many women experience financial difficulties as they go through this journey, fortunately I was not impacted. (For more information on The Pink Fund visit: www.thepinkfund.org #RealHelpNow) I was so honored to dance and raise money for such a great cause! While I was dancing the pain that I was experiencing dissipated, I felt light and weightless – almost like I was floating through the air! I feltALIVE! Through the dancing and the new diagnosis, it allowed me to come to terms with many aspects of the new road that faced me and I made a decision to not live my life with an expiration date stamped across my forehead!Yes, I have an incurable disease, but I’m not dying today (or tomorrow for that matter)! I AM ALIVE! I refuse to live with looking at the negative and the things that “might” happen. I refuse to look at the statistics – I am not going to be diminished to being a number! I have a choice; I choose to dance through life and enjoy each and every day! Be blessed,Donna

Posted by Donna's Cancer Journey on Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Watch Donna glide across the dance floor as her sister cheers her on.

 

The Event

On Oct. 5, 2017, I started my day with the sixth of 10 radiation treatments. After that, I worked a half day and then got all glammed up for the dance.

Dancing With the Survivors was a huge success. Many generous people came to support The Pink Fund and the work they do to help women affected by financial toxicity due to breast cancer. I was so grateful to my amazing friends, family, and coworkers who sponsored me and cheered me on.

While I danced, I felt beautiful in the green and black dress I’d bedazzled with rhinestones that sparkled as I twirled. My back pain dissipated. I felt weightless, like I was floating through air. Most of all, I felt alive!

 

 

Still a Survivor

Through the dancing and the new diagnosis, I’ve come to terms with the road I’m facing. I’ve decided to not live my life with an expiration date stamped across my forehead.

Yes, I have an incurable disease. But I’m not dying today—or tomorrow. I refuse to focus on the negative and things that might happen. I refuse to look at the statistics; I will not be reduced to a number.

I have a choice. I choose to dance through life and enjoy each day!

Feeling blessed; be blessed.

Donna

 

 

 

The information herein may not be construed as medical advice. The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. It should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. It is best to obtain medical recommendations from your physician.

 

 

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