Have you ever seen petals of a flower unravel one by one? The undoing of something beginning is a process but the results contain a beauty that is indescribable. The start of something new isn’t always an easy task; in fact, I believe it can be one of the hardest choices to choose. In life, we endure obstacles and hardships that may seem to make us waver or fall… And that’s okay as long as you decide to keep on going and to trust the process. When you begin holding strength and perseverance, it doesn’t matter how many times you have to begin. I’ve had to restart and begin a fresh journey multiple times in my life and I still am.. But what’s important is that I don’t give up.
At age 14 I was diagnosed with a chronic stomach condition, early stages of esophageal cancer, and a rare form of precancerous mass in my stomach. I was a freshman in high school; a young girl ready to conquer my dreams and live them to the fullest. I dreamt of dancing shoes and bright lights; becoming a professional dancer on Broadway or simply just becoming a professional dancer by attending Juilliard in New York City. I never intended to be fighting a daily health war or even hoping to make it through the night to see another day.
Words cannot qualify to explain how tremendous the pain I endured on a daily basis was — collapsing over and over again throughout the day, not having the strength to move for days, weeks, months, being unable to eat anything + looking like a skeleton because of loss of appetite, or the endless cries cause the pain was unbearable and all too much for me to handle.
I was given negative feedback from doctors constantly; the journey of finding my real diagnosis was long and weary… But discovering my real diagnosis and battling to get rid of it was twice as long and draining. “Dancing is going to be tough, you won’t be able to dance like you were before. There may be even be a day where you won’t be able to dance at all,” they’d say… And hearing those words hit my core. I was being robbed of my passion, I couldn’t do what I loved. Regardless of how bad I didn’t want to listen to the doctors… My body simply wasn’t allowing me to dance; I barely had strength to walk. I was a teenager still being carried in my mother’s arms, crawling to make it to the restroom because I was stubborn and didn’t want to ask for help.
I was mad at myself for being sick; I was on the edge of giving up. My hope grew dim and fear embedded my soul immensely, I knew at age 14 what it felt like to feel powerless over my own life. It was no longer rhythm or movement I was dreaming of instead I dreamt to be free from pain.
As you can tell, that battle I fought was not just a physical battle but an emotional and mental battle too. So many thoughts and questions ran through my mind — Was I ever going to have the chance to dance again? Will I overcome this? How will I find the strength to get up out of bed?, etc. This sickness made me revaluate all of the past experiences and opportunities I missed. “Lost” time that I took for granted and should of cherished more dearly… But I learned a lot through this phase of fighting for my life.
After 2 years of fighting, during my sophomore year of high school, part of the battle was defeated by a miracle — the esophageal cancer cells were gone. I was grateful and still am to this day but the other two illness remain in my body. Doctors suggested surgery (but it wasn’t a permeant cure for my chronic stomach condition) and recommended to just monitor the rare pre cancer mass in my stomach. The details of surgery were risky with an unfavorable 50/50 chance at losing my ability to dance for good. I refused that option and believed maybe another miracle will happen one day.
No matter how many times I lost faith in my circumstances, faith is still what held me together.
I began gaining strength again to move; I didn’t need a wheelchair or to be carried in people’s arms as frequent as before. I immediately wanted to get back to dancing but when I did, whirls of frustration came with that process. The doctors were right — I wasn’t able to dance like I could before. Practicing certain dance positions caused pain to my stomach; for example, some ballet movement was too strenuous for my body. I had to accept the fact that I have limitations and restrictions on doing something I love… But I’d rather choose to adjust rather than not having the chance to dance at all.
I wasn’t ready to give up my passion… I was determined to rise from this obstacle. My body failed and at times my spirit was low but I wasn’t going to miss out on any more chances to do what my heart desired. My definition of dance expanded; I explored the dance world with research and practice and discovered new styles that could bring me freedom and a peace of mind instead of the fear of hurting myself. Flamenco was the style of dance that made the biggest impact on my journey and brought hope into my renewal of dancing career.
After learning and practicing flamenco dancing, I had the opportunity to perform it for my hometown pageant that I participated in. That performance opened the door for me to grow deeper in dancing by resulting in the chance to teach dance at a local after school program to grades 1st to 5th. I teach children rhythm and movement from various styles of dance such as ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary, hip hop/break dancing, ballroom (waltz, foxtrot, tango Latin styles- cha cha cha, samba, salsa, bachata, cumbia etc.,) folk dances such as folkorico, flamenco, and Polynesian style (hula). I encourage them to be the best dancer they can be and instill the passion of dance into their hearts, motivating them to always pursue their dreams and to never ever give up.
I choreograph pieces/routines for my students to perform frequently at events as well as work with other choreographers and dancers to provide the best dancing classes for the children. After a year of teaching experience, I made a decision to expand teaching dance into private lessons and group lessons for children. Honestly, it’s a beautiful thing when a passion and career comes together.
Through it all, getting back into dance after being so sick was not easy and still isn’t…. I wish I can say I’m free of all cancer or illnesses but it’s been 6 years and counting of fighting them. I’m a dancer, dancing with a cancer inside of my body. Being 19 years old now, I would have never imagined my life to be the way it is — doing what I love in the most amazing way possible. I feel so blessed to be given another time to dance.
Let no obstacles or anything get in the way of doing what makes your heart feel alive… Cherish every day. Hold on to the moments… Don’t take anything or anyone for granted… Time is so valuable don’t waste it… Don’t forget to love the life you were given either, because it’s a blessing… And mostly important, no matter what, keep on going! Trust me, the results of your process will be beautiful.
Don’t give up.
— Joy S.L.