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Keeping in Shape During Cancer -- Artistically

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Cancer can present many challenges to a person, one of which is staying in shape. Your body is already dealing with rogue cells out to do you harm, you don't need to add to it by not being in the best shape you can be during your fight with cancer. My medical team asks every single time I'm in for a follow up if I'm exercising. My way of staying in shape is taking adult ballet classes. What was an elective class in college I took on a bet turned into probably the most fun (and challenging) way I've kept in shape since I was 19 (I'm turning 34 this year). During my fight with cancer, ballet has shown me just how connected the mind and body are, especially during the two post-surgery periods I've gone through.

When I started ballet classes, I was the guy who had been in the high school show choir who received the Two Left Feet Award for two years in a row. I was just not that in touch with my body. But somehow I got myself into a classroom full of other adult ballet students and found that as I kept at it, I improved a little at a time. Suddenly as time passed by I found that plies, pirouettes, and air tours weren't so tough to do and the combinations were pretty easy to remember. My brain started multitasking about keeping my legs turned out, my back engaged, and remembering which way I was supposed to be going. My flexibility increased and my stamina shot way up. Sure, I've fallen a few times, but that's usually the only way your body realizes what not to do in the future.

Then the seizure. Ironically, the seizure that set off my cancer journey happened in my adult ballet class. This led to a month worth's of doctor visits followed by brain biopsy #1 after a MRI showed "something" in my brain. Well, two somethings. Of course, any type of intricate surgery like this meant no heavy physical activity of any kind for a few months after the surgery as I let my head heal. On top of that, the biopsy revealed that I had two cancerous tumors that were not going to be easily removed. So here I was trying to mentally work my around my life changing in such a drastic manner and no real way to get any of that energy out physically. World of Warcraft just didn't have the same satisfaction as a dance class.

So I mentally jumped for joy the minute my neurosurgeon cleared me to go back to class, even if there was a "no jumping, turning, or bending your head past your waist" rule in place for a few more months. But it felt amazing just to be back in the studio, even if only for half a barre the first night and from there slowly getting the stamina to get through a whole class. And even with the no jump/turns restriction, my teacher and I found things I could still actively work at, like where my arms were, where my head was supposed to be looking when, and so on. It was several months before I was completely up for a full out class, but I worked my way up that mountain. It felt like a victory to me, so I took it in the midst of all the craziness that cancer can bring into one's life.

The whole recovery process really hammered home for me that ballet is an art form of both the mind and the body. Your body has to take what your mind is telling it to do and then execute superhuman non-everyday movement for minutes at a time. And that's just in a single class. Performances are a whole other story. Since one of my tumors is pressing onto the part of my brain that controls the motor functions of the left side of my body, trying to execute the superhuman movement that ballet requires has gotten a bit more challenging. The resulting fatigue I can feel is not a huge noticeable difference in everyday life, but it definitely is felt while I'm in class. So I've had to learn when to know that when my body isn't cooperating with what I want it to do because I'm not pushing myself hard enough or is it because it's just tired and I need to call it a day. So some days I can push myself make the corrections and some days my tumor wins and I'm just too fatigued to make it work. And this learning curve was just after the first surgery. It's been just over a year since the second surgery and I can tell you, the second time around has been just as fun. I just had a better understanding of when to push my body and when to sit down and stop. My brain knows what to do, but my body had to recover enough to do it. And then there's the dilemma of whipping your head around as you turn when you have two titanium plates on the right side of your skull.

But even with new limits to deal with I'll be forever grateful that ballet has been there for me, keeping me mentally and physically active while I deal with my cancer. And, God forbid, that my cancer negatively impacts my body more before my medical team figure out a way to eradicate it, I at least know that there is a little bit of ballet hardwired in my brain somewhere, and that I can just start with pliés and work my way back up.

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