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An Ode To My Cancer

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You showed up uninvited. It was the last thing on my mind. A welcomed guest you weren’t. It was rude and so unkind. I knew you had to be dealt with. Aggressive moves I’d make. So many tough decisions. But my health it was at stake. For you see I was a dancer. A Rockette who loved to kick. But how could I have cancer. And how could I be sick. A healthy 34, who barely drank and did not smoke. I asked myself on the daily if this was one big crazy joke. Sadly it was not and off to surgery I did go. My dancing was on pause and there would be no summer show. The show it would go on, but not for me I had to heal. I was back to learning basics, such as feeding myself a meal. As a person I’m impatient, and my progress it was slow. No…it wasn’t really, but as an athlete it sure felt so. Would I ever get back to kicking and dancing upon that stage? What are my future plans when I go to turn life’s page? Four weeks and two days later, with my tap shoes in my hand. Back to class I went…slow and steady, nothing grand. I cried because I was happy. I cried because of the pain. I stood in the back and took it all in, my life was not the same. I had a new perspective. A great new outlook on life. If only I could overcome my mental and bodily strife. You see my brain remembered one thing and my body followed suit. Except things were in new places with no range of motion to boot. I struggled through the class. But so happy was my heart. I was back to what I love…baby steps, but it’s a start! It was an uphill battle and sometimes the tortoise wins the race. Each day it was a struggle, unknown obstacles I did face. I had to remember I was healthy and much worse off I could be. Each day alive was a blessing so I lived with vitality. 5 weeks and 2 days post op, back in costume at the hall. Just for an interview promoting the show. A victory no matter how small. I was trying to get back to normal. “Normal”…what a funny word. To think I’d ever know normal, was actually quite absurd. For what I knew was different and different can be great. Don’t get me wrong there are those days where I was dealt a life I hate. It was time to pull it together. Enough of the negative speech. It was back to the studio, no performing just yet but a great opportunity to teach. My students didn’t have a clue what an important role they’d play. They changed the way I lived my life and went about each day. I’ve always loved to teach but never realized just how much. 80 at a time was a challenge…Jazz, tap, kicks and such. But now I had a reason. A new story to be told. Go after your dreams. Reach for the stars. Be daring, brave and bold. I was beginning to make a difference. I could see how they’d respond. The transformation was happening with no use of a magic wand. It was just from what I’d say. So many thoughts to share. They’d listen with their hearts and with their eye’s they’d stare. I was inspiring to people. Something still so strange to say. But my students gave me meaning and showed my life the way. I was ready for my audition. To go get my job once more. To show them all how’d far I come and leave it all on the floor. So by now you know I got it. I finally got that call. Year 11 on the line at the famed Radio City Music Hall. Rehearsals started Monday. Its been a week and I’m still sore. So much was taught my brain is full of choreo and more. The week it hasn’t been easy. My dancing it just ain’t the same. To the average eye you’d never know but to me a mean head game. Everything feels slightly different. A struggle to do little things. I hold my breathe when learning new moves and the challenge to my body it brings. I will fight for every dance step till I’m perfectly in line. I know I can do it. I have complete faith that by opening night I will shine. Its been quite the journey to get here and I’ve tried to take it in all in stride. When it comes to my job, being part of a legacy fills my heart with such pride. So stay tuned for more updates on the life I lead post cancer. Who knows what it holds, but I’ve a smile on my face because I’m back to being a dancer!

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Happy One Month Cancer Free To Me!

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Exactly four weeks ago was easily the hardest day of my life. But it also marked the beginning of the rest of my life. Four weeks ago was cancers last stand. Four weeks ago I lost a lot but gained so much more in return. (The clichés just roll off the tongue lately) So when we last left off in our story I had just turned 35. As a side note, my health insurance will now pay for my mammogram. The irony is, I will never have another one in my entire life. (Nothing against my health insurance as they have been amazing! Some insurance companies won’t cover mammograms till age 45 or even 50! Yikes!) The day after my birthday I was back in the hospital. I had been experiencing severe cramping in my leg and we wanted to make sure it wasn’t a blood clot. After many hours of waiting (I am ALWAYS waiting!!!!) and a doctor who was a dead ringer for George Carlin we were no closer to figuring out what was actually going on. You see, the individuals responsible for performing the doppler ultrasound (test for blood clots) went home two hours earlier. So they gave me a shot of blood thinner and sent me on my merry way. Back for the test the next day…and no blood clot. Yay for that info, boo for new pains that I now had post surgery that I did not have before. That weekend marked my first attempt in venturing back out into the real world. My best friend was in town from LA and my man was in town from San Francisco. Mom finally got a break as I was staying in NYC that week. On any given day I walk through Times Square and my emotions are as follows: annoyed (at tourists stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture with Elmo) frustrated (at tourists stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture with Spiderman) and impatient (at tourists stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture with Mickey) When did we become Hollywood Blvd? Please go back west. Anyway…try walking through Times Square less than 2 weeks after major surgery. I had one emotion and that was scared out of my mind. No Roxy Red Tights in your half inch Capezio character shoe…please take your terrible Fosse moves and step aside so I can walk down the street! I still have full mobility from the waist down and I was ready to practice a slightly higher than waist strut kick if need be. When your well being literally depends on you walking down the street without bumping into anyone or anything, you immediately become hyper aware of your surroundings. It is truly amazing how many people in this city walk down the street, head buried in a cell phone. Of course it was absolutely freezing in NYC these few days. I could dress myself but that darn jacket proved difficult. And I HATED asking for help. But help was much needed. Being I was only two weeks out from surgery, the list of things I couldn’t yet do was pretty extensive and included the following: put on a jacket, wash my hair, dry my hair, do anything with my hair except put a hat on, open/close doors, push anything, pull anything, lift anything over 5 pounds, sleep in any position except on my back…so basically I could kinda dress myself and feed myself. The mental struggle was real folks. I couldn’t really hug anyone. Laughing hurt, crying hurt. Actually doing anything hurt. The tears returned. Looking at myself in the mirror sent me into a tailspin. (I still required bandages) At this point I was unsure which was more difficult, the emotional healing or the physical. I just wanted to dance. Rehearsals for the summer show were in full swing and it was impossible to ignore it on social media. I so badly wanted to be able speed up the healing process but I knew I had to be patient. At the three week mark I was given the ok to jump (well carefully climb) on a stationary bike. Off I went. I was so excited to do ANYTHING physical. I didn’t even care that it didn’t feel like a workout. Just the fact that I was moving any part of my body made me so happy! 30ish minutes of riding and a few stretches of my upper body and that’s what I was allowed. So that’s what I did. My body was SOOOOO thrilled to have the blood flowing again. Before surgery I was spinning 3 times a week, taking dance class and lifting weights. I literally went from 100 to 0. So here I am at the four week mark. I enjoyed another bike ride this morning and my stretches. Each day my range of motion improves. I recently realized I could once again hang my towel on the hook on the back of the bathroom door. That was exciting. I can wash and carefully dry my own hair. I am no longer bandaged and am no longer bruised. The tears have been minimal as I am beginning to finally feel more like myself. There were definitely some dark days when I felt I would never be able to gain enough range of motion to dance again. Although I am many weeks away from dancing full out, I now believe that I will get there…with full range of motion! Did I mention I also hit the 212 trifecta this week? Phone call from a doctor, Duane Reade and a casting director. Boom. This Friday will be my first “fill” with the plastic surgeon. As mentioned in my last blog, I have tissue expanders in place at the moment. They are basically flat implants that get filled over time to slowly stretch my pec muscle and the skin. My plastic surgeon was able to fill them a little in surgery so I did not wake up completely flat. Forgetting the fact that they are hard as rocks and completely uncomfortable I have actually enjoyed being on the smaller side the past few weeks. So for all of you who have been asking if I have decided to go bigger once I am done with my reconstruction the answer is absolutely NO! Ha. Never was a boob girl before all of this started and have not become one after. I will just be happy to return to the size I was on April 19th at 7:29 am! So what have I learned in the past four weeks? Well how much time do you have? (Kidding…kinda). I have learned I am one very very very lucky girl. And I do not forget that. Yes I was proactive about having my mammography done when my gyno found the lump, but the lump wasn’t […]

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Now that I got that off my chest…

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  Too soon? Gotta keep the laughter folks.   So on Tuesday April 19th at 6am my parents and I held hands and together stepped with our right foot into NYU Hospital (some Jewish superstition I still don’t understand). From there things moved very quickly. Signed my life away on a stack of papers and was soon after escorted into a room the size of a closet. Not a New York sized closet; more like what one would find in a nice suburban home in New Jersey. My vitals were taken and I was asked a million questions. The same million questions I had been asked each time I saw a doctor for the past six weeks. I should have just made a recording and hit play. It would have been much easier. But I get it, the last thing I wanted was for them to miscalculate my anesthesia . For someone who has never had surgery before I just wanted to wake up! We sat in a pre-op area waiting for all my doctors to stop by and discuss how the day was going to proceed. First up was my Breast Surgeon. This women is as brilliant as they come folks and she means business…just the type of women you want strapping on her suit of armor ready to go to battle with the enemy! (Ice monsters, evil gingerbread men and humbugs stood no chance with this lady….Video Game Radio City Christmas Spectacular circa 2013 anyone?) She initialed my chest with a sharpie and off she went (another random tidbit I was unaware of before undergoing surgery). Next up was my Plastic Surgeon. When my doctor walked in at 6am in a designer dress, heels, diamond earrings and a Louis Vuitton purse I knew I made the right decision. This was definitely the woman I wanted performing my reconstruction. From one perfectionist to another I appreciated her meticulous nature. I knew she wouldn’t let me down. A few markings with a sharpie and her signature and off she went. Some more people passed through our waiting area with questions and papers to sign and then it was time. Mom, Dad and I held hands and had one last cry. Well it was a cry that quickly turned into laughter because my father’s cry is more like the wailing of sea creature calling out to its lost child. But it helped to lighten the mood for the moment. Some hugs and kisses and then a nurse escorted me down (what seemed like) endless hallways to the OR. A word about walking into your own surgery. Um yeah. Whoever thought that was a good idea I would like to have a long chat with. This is not ER or Gray’s Anatomy folks. There is no hunky gorgeous guy in scrubs waiting on the other side of the door to take away all your cares and worries and send you into a googly eyed trance. I felt my legs start to buckle as they opened the door. The OR is cold…very cold and very busy. I couldn’t tell who was who as everyone was in scrubs and masks with only eyes visible. My Breast Surgeon grabbed me by the hand and assured me everything was going to be ok. She helped me onto the skinniest table I had ever sat on. Even for a skinny girl I was unsure I would actually stay on the thing. As I laid back a flurry of activity began. Multiple seatbelts were being strapped across my body (oh if it was only a ride at Disney World I was about to go on. Space Mountain would have been an awesome alternative at this point. I remember the IV entering my arm and minutes later I was out. 4ish hours later and it was all over. All my breast tissue on both sides and 2 lymph nodes on my left were history. If felt like I had taken a 5 minute nap but during that time the bus used in the Christmas show ran over my chest. I was bandaged from one side to the other and connected to a bunch of beeping machines. I remember seeing my parents and a bunch of doctors come through soon after I woke up. (I woke up!…insert craziest celebration dance tambourines and all! First success) Remember in my first blog I discussed percentages and my continued ability to defy them. Well here we go again. So the plan was following my breast surgeons bi lateral mastectomy to have my plastic surgeon perform a direct to implant. Wake up with boobs, take 8 weeks to heal and move on with life. Not quite the outcome. We knew there was a 30% chance that once in surgery my plastic surgeon would have to use what they call tissue expanders, which are basically flat implants that get filled over time and stretch the skin and pec muscle slowly. A Plan B per se (shout out to my Rockette Sisters!) Well folks, plan B it was. I was to dang skinny! So if you ever think there is no downside to being skinny think again. My plastic surgeon, in all her meticulous glory thought aesthetically I would have a better outcome this way. And I trusted her to make the right decision for me. I will skip the next two days in the hospital. They were filled with terrible reactions to anesthesia, lying around doing nothing, running a fever and basically sleeping 22 hours day. Thursday April 21st I got to go home! (In my mind another celebration dance ensued, maybe this time more African in nature, tribal headpiece and all). Although I was home, I was basically at the mercy of those around me. We opted not to have a home nurse visit daily because good ol’ mom was capable of all that needed to be done. Less than 3 weeks ago I was in dance class, boots strapped on, turning and flying across the floor with all the abandon in the world. Today the only thing I could do on my own was walk and feed myself. A hard pill to swallow (but one of them was valium so a bit of silver lining). There were lots of flowers and gifts waiting for me when I arrived and they all made me smile. I finally could stay awake long enough to sign onto social media and check out my Facebook page. A word about my Rockette sisters, past and present. To say that I am blessed, that I am lucky, that I am grateful, that I am humbled, are all understatements. These group of women showed me support like I have never experienced in my entire life. There is a mutual understanding amongst this group. No one else will ever understand what we go through season after season. One of our dance captains said it best. “ […]

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A word about Cancer…

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Cancer sucks. I would know….I have it. I was going for the “just rip the band-aid off real quick and it will hurt less” kinda announcement. How’d I do? Anyway, let me rewind. In early February I returned from a trip to Miami, ready to get back to life after completing my 10th season as a Radio City Rockette. I was dusting off the audition book, returning to dance class and of course making all those doctor appointments one never has time for during a super hectic Christmas season. During my annual visit to my gynecologist she found a lump in my left breast that she thought I should have someone take a closer look at. Now this was not concerning to me…I had been though ultrasounds before. I had a history of benign cysts. The lump was small and felt like all the others. Because I am almost 35 we decided it was probably time to do a base line mammography. (Insert the worlds biggest thank you card to my amazing gyno…this women SAVED MY LIFE! I repeat…SAVED MY LIFE) Fast forward a little through some more tests, 2 different radiologists, more images, more tests, a biopsy (and a partridge in a pear tree…shout out to my Rockette sisters) Oh and waiting…a whole lot of waiting. A word about waiting. I’m pretty sure the idea of waiting was created as some kind of medieval torture device. I have done my fair share of waiting in my life. Waiting for that phone to ring with the next job offer, waiting for that guy to text you back after a great first date. But waiting to find out if you have cancer is a whole different can of worms. I tried to keep busy. For a few hours I forgot I was waiting for results as I taught a Rockette Experience (more on the power of dance later). Saturday February 27th started off as a pretty awesome day. I was up early and headed to Newark Airport for my Global Entry Interview. For those who don’t know Global Entry is this great program to fast track your way through customs after traveling outside the country. Interview took all of 5 minutes and I was approved. Woohoo. You see I was about to finally put my passport to some good use. I was scheduled to leave for London the following Friday. But that was only the beginning! 4 days after returning from London I was hopping on a flight to Hong Kong and then continuing on to Bali. BALI!!!!! That evening I settled in with some take out (fish tacos) and some Netflix. I hadn’t had time to check out Fuller House previous to this night and a few episodes were on my to do list for the evening. And then the phone rang. It was my parents….they were at my apartment door. I had breast cancer. 34 years old….and I was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Its amazing how one little word can stop your world dead in its tracks, flip it upside down and hit you like a mac truck going 90. Did I mention the part where I passed out (2x) upon hearing this news and smacked my face against a wall causing a hairline fracture in my tooth???? Oh yeah, that happened. Anyway back to the cancer…now what? Well for the moment I packed a bag and went to my parents house in New Jersey, because the last place I wanted to be was anywhere alone. I didn’t sleep that night. I laid in my parents bed with tears streaming down my face. Scared. Confused. In a state of utter disbelief. How does a healthy 34 year old end up with breast cancer? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Two years ago I watched as my mother helped plan the wedding of my brother and sister-in-law. I thought that was the most overwhelming experience I ever bore witness to. Until cancer entered my life. One is never prepared for a cancer diagnosis. Its not like it shows up at opportune times in your life. It shows up when you least expect it and throws a wrench in every aspect of your life and the lives of those closest to you. I am lucky that I have the worlds best radiologist. BEST! That weekend we chatted many times on the phone and he even took time to meet me in person on that Sunday to help guide me as to my next steps. Here’s the heartbreaking thing about breast cancer. We all know someone who’s been through it. Think about it. I can guarantee every single person reading this can think of at least one person who has had to fight this terrible beast. With that said…I had many people to reach out to. I needed doctors. By the time Monday rolled around I had a list a mile long. Then the phone calls began. A word about phone calls. (All friends in “the biz” can relate) Before all this started, seeing a 212 number come up on your phone meant one of two things; Broadway was calling with a job offer (or at least a New York based casting director with a job for you somewhere) or your prescription was ready for pick up at Duane Reade. Now a 212 number was Dr’s offices confirming appointments and test results. Hey Broadway…I haven’t changed my number…feel free to call anytime! 4 days till London. We (I say we because my parents have not left my side since the diagnosis) were able to get in to see one doctor before I was scheduled to take off. I left the doctor, somewhat hopeful, but scared out of my mind, overwhelmed with info and just sad. Now I had to get on a plane. A week ago I was beyond excited to be going to London. Not only was I headed somewhere I had never been, I was being reunited with an amazing guy I hadn’t seen in a month. A guy who after hearing the girl he had met only a handful of times and was now diagnosed with cancer still wanted to travel the world with me. Now I just wanted to cry. My mother came in that day and helped me pack, I remember just crying. Questioning whether or not I should actually be taking this trip. Taking any of these trips. Every doctor told me to take the trips. Take all the trips. So off I went. Nice easy 6ish hours to London…oh if only it were that easy. The next part of my story is 100% true, you won’t believe it when you read it but I guarantee this is how the next few hours of my life unfolded. I was on an overnight flight to London. We were about 3 hours into our flight, cabin lights were dimmed and […]