One silver lining of the breast-cancer cloud that cast a shadow over my life has been the opportunity to learn from amazing women.
Last week, I learned from Tiffany Glenn, a 33-year-old ballet dancer who was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer when she was 27.
I didnt have the opportunity to meet her she died June 18 but the more I read about her, the more I admired the way she lived.
I have never worked with a dancer with such determination, drive, strength and courage she was a tigress," Ballet San Joses principal dance master, Raymond Rodriguez, told the San Jose Mercury News.
Glenn began to dance for the company in 2001. She completed treatment in 2007, and returned to work. Dancing was her passion. After weeks of rehearsals, she was ready to perform the leading role in The Nutcracker. She shined in a pink dress that December.
I watched a video of her on YouTube. Her posture was perfect. Her skin was flawless. Her eyes were full of life. She talked about her experience with cancer, and performed a graceful solo. It was clear that she was born to dance.
What Glenn did after treatment is not easy. A bilateral mastectomy means that a surgeon cuts off a womans femininity. And being graceful on stage after something like that must have been a challenge.
My posture suffered after my mastectomy in November. It was as if my body knew that I was ashamed of the secret hiding beneath my blouse.
A normal woman has breasts. The scars over my breast implants scream ugly to me. Dont tell me the scars say courage or strength I am not there yet. For now, they are a reminder that I will never experience breastfeeding a baby and may never feel sensual again.
Survivors who are further along in their recovery promise that my feelings will change with time. And women who have not had cancer but understand body-image struggles have given me tips.
One of them, Miami artist Loni Jae, exudes the type of confidence and grace that I want. The day we met at a Wynwood restaurant, the slender Jae was wearing a fuchsia top under an airy, bright blue jacket and matching wide pants, accessorized with ethnic textures.
I told her about the struggle I have been having with my posture.
You have to straighten up your spine, stick out your chest, push your shoulders back, look up and pick up your chin, she advised me. Then walk like you love yourself. You are alive. You are here.
And I am truly happy to be here.
A family friend whom I have known since I was 13 survived prostate cancer, and is now dealing with cancer again. I have two new friends who completed treatment for breast cancer and now have cancer in their bones. Time is precious.
Glenn, the San Jose dancer, used every minute she had to do what she loved. I intend to do the same.
She retired in March after the cancer returned and spread through her body. Doctors told her that she couldnt dance again because her bones would break when she landed. She continued dancing anyway. And she said she wanted to be a choreographer.
I fell asleep reading about her life, and awoke the next morning in pain. I have been experiencing inflammation in my joints. Glenns perseverance inspired a thought that I shared on Facebook:
Some times you have to live life like a ballerina and dance through the pain.