Dancing Through Breast Cancer Taught Me to Live


When my nurse navigator told me to dance during breast cancer, dancing reminded me to face cancer head-on.

Image of pink boxing gloves.

"Cancer will not stop me from dancing atop cancer," said Capobianco.

Dancing Atop Cancer

Cancer is a dreadful diagnosis. Eleven months ago, my primary care provider uttered the word that changed my life. Breast cancer. As she placed her hand on mine, she reassured me and told me we would fight. The journey has been difficult. The cancer had metastasized by the time it was discovered. An uphill battle stared me in the face.

The first oncologist I saw filled me with dread. I walked out of his office believing my chances were not good. I was convinced I was dying. Cristina, my primary care provider, stepped in and requested another oncologist. It led to a fight with my insurance company and medical group. My aunt and cousin stood by my side strengthening me as I demanded my insurance company provide better care. Somehow, I was heard, and the right oncologist emerged to lead my fight. I learned I had a voice.

Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer is not an easy diagnosis to swallow. I faced a battle I didn’t know how to fight. Early on Cindi, a nurse navigator, would change my fight. She was dancing when I first met her. She told me dancing was the key. At first, I didn’t understand. Then she lifted her wig and showed me she had been in my shoes. A cancer survivor, Cindi would show me how to fight cancer with dancing shoes. “You gotta dance,” she told me. As I sat in the chemo chair, she would waltz in and remind me to dance. It took my mind off the battle I was waging. I learned to dance atop cancer from Cindi. I had never tapped my toes or swayed my hips. Now, there was a song playing only we could hear. The chorus encouraged me to fight. Week after week I danced as the chemo dripped into me. The fight was building inside of me and meeting the cancer head-on.

I willed myself to see my feet tapping, my fingers snapping as nausea and aches followed chemo. Lying in bed I focused on the music and danced. The dances were in my mind. I didn’t have the physical strength to get up and dance, but in my mind, I was dancing atop cancer.

Each week, treatment meant more dancing as a healing poison dripped into me. My oncologist and the nurses encouraged me. My aunt sat by my side. I kept dancing.

After several months my oncologist told me the tumors were gone. Dancing had allowed the chemo to kill the cancer. Dread had transformed into hope. Cindi and I continued to dance. My treatment changed — no more chemo. Now, medications meant to prevent the cancer cells from replicating drip into me every three weeks. Bloodwork and scans create anxiety in me as I fear the cancer’s re-emergence. In those moments, Cindi reminds me to dance.

The fear will always be there, but I have my dancing shoes to lead me into battle. I have a team around me, who are determined to see me live. They are by my side, encouraging me and giving me hope. Cancer will not stop me from dancing atop cancer.

Finding My Dancing Shoes

I often wonder why I was struck by cancer. Why does anyone get cancer? Why me? I have questioned myself endlessly since I was diagnosed. At times I have screamed my question. Other times I have barely whispered it in the darkness of the night. I will never know why cancer chose me. Perhaps it knew I needed to be given a fight to distract me from my fight with depression. Maybe I needed to be forced to stop working a job I hated.

Cancer has given me a new perspective on life. While depression had me longing for an escape from life, cancer has created in me a will to live. I don’t understand how this change has taken place. How did I go from suicidal thoughts to fighting for my life? On the surface, it doesn’t make sense. I could have viewed cancer as the answer to my desire to end the suffering depression inflicts upon my life. That didn’t happen. Instead, I became determined to beat cancer; to live. Did cancer strike me so I would find a desire to live? I will never know. Perhaps, I shouldn’t search for a reason for my cancer diagnosis. There may not be a reason. It could be just a coincidence.

I can’t help but think that I was meant to learn something. Life is full of lessons if we open our minds and listen. I thought cancer had taught me to fight, but really, I have been fighting my whole life. My battle with depression has been a fight. I have fought depression my whole life. At times I have been close to giving up, very close. I have been on the verge of taking my life many times. Now, that cancer has threatened to take my life, I am fighting to live. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense. When I really think about it, I can find a reason. With suicidal thoughts, I was making the decision. I was choosing what would happen with my life. Cancer came along and took that control away. It has the power to take my life away without consulting me. That knowledge transformed me into a fighter.

Now, I stand up and fight cancer. Throw punches at it. Tell it to back off. I have learned to dance on top of cancer. A special nurse taught me to see my fight as a dance. She waltzes in to reassure me as chemo drips into my port. I have learned to dance, tap my toes and sway my hips as the chemo drips into me. I approach my cancer fight with dancing feet. I never would have seen myself dancing, but I think I was meant to learn to dance. I hear a song telling me cancer will not win.

Cancer has taken so much from me in such a short time. Still, I battle in my “dancing shoes” as chemo drips into me. As it is killing cancer cells, chemo is filling me with hope. It is a strange dichotomy. Even though I have become physically weaker, I have emerged mentally stronger. I have learned that life is worth living. I hear a song encouraging me to dance, to fight the cancer that chose me. While I wish I could have learned this another way, cancer has taught me to live.

This post was written and submitted by Gina Capobianco. The article reflects the views of Capobianco and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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