My young adult cancer diagnosis quickly taught me that there is enough drama in the world that I don’t have any control over, so I should try to minimize the drama I can control. In my book, Everything Changes, I call this my Drama Reduction Program. Here’s an example of how it works: I cannot control the results of my PET scan, but I can stop making lunch dates with a prima donna friend, who I am certain has narcissistic personality disorder.
On December 31, 2007, a biopsy showed that my cancer was back (or more likely had never left.) The drama scales needed rebalancing ASAP: reduce, reduce, reduce. I realized that after eight years of living with this disease, I couldn’t hack working as a choreographer, writer, and cancer patient all at the same time. Three full-time jobs does not a sane person make. One of them had to go.
There is no cure for my cancer, and I had a signed book contract, so it was obvious that choreography was out the door, at least for a year. (Would it hurt my income? Only slightly – do you know how little modern dance choreographers make?) My plan, starting last January 1, was to create no new danceworks, attend no local performances, nor read the industry news rags. I have kept this promise for a whole year.
Cue The Irene Cara
I have danced and choreographed my whole life. (I had a good start growing up in Pittsburgh in the 80′s, dancing in the buildings and steel mills where Flashdance was filmed, developing a slight delusion about becoming the ballet version of Jennifer Beals.) For the first seven years of my cancer I possessed a slightly melodramatic, “cancer isn’t going to get the best of me” attitude. But you know what? That’s horseshit. Cancer sometimes does get the best of us and that is exactly why it sucks to have this disease.
Over the last year I’ve let go of my identity as a working choreographer and let the actuality of my cancer interrupt my goals and plans. It wasn’t as hard as I feared. I’ve learned that my identity as a choreographer was partly just a construction of my ego – a fine thing to let go of. And, this little experiment hasn’t interrupted my dreams – I still spend large chunks of time staring into space, imagining dances in my mind. And, just because I didn’t choreograph a new work for the first time in fifteen years doesn’t mean I am not a choreographer. Being a choreographer is who I am whether my shingle is hanging up or not.
I have no clue when I’ll get back into the studio. I do miss it deeply. But, my book is about to launch. I’m taking care of a family member with Alzheimer’s. I’ve still got cancer. Making dances will always be extremely important to me, but not as important as my health or my sanity. And honestly, the characters that roam the dance community can score pretty high in the drama department. It has been a refreshing vacation.
What choices can you make in your life to reduce the drama? Has cancer interrupted your career goals or work life? If so, how have you managed that?