The happy cancer dance

Unless you are one of those people who doesn’t know how the internet works, you’ve likely seen this viral video circulating around social networking sites, where a woman who is about to undergo a mastectomy dances with her medical team prior to having her surgery.

I have no issues with this woman and her dance party. I liked watching the video and it made me smile. I love a good dance party and I totally danced at odd times throughout my cancer treatment. When the urge strikes, I say go for it. Her display of joy does not bother me in the least.

What bothers me, however, is people’s reactions to this video. The video went viral because people LOVE seeing patients who have fun with their cancer. Patients who subvert expectations of being a cancer patient and who defy convention. These types of stories are the ones that spread like wildfire because we find them to be inspirational and uplifting. Thousands of people shared and commented on the video: She is so awesome! Wow, she is brave! What amazing courage this woman has! I wish I could be like her!

Okay, fair enough.

But I’ll tell you a secret: EVERYONE who gets their boobs lopped off possesses courage. We just all choose to do it in different ways. Sure, no one wants to see the video of the young mom being wheeled in her hospital bed, into the operating room, with tears running down her face, hopped-up on anxiety meds. Fine. You don’t have to see it. But all these women are no less courageous and no less awesome and no less worthy of being celebrated.

Our society loves showing the lighter side of cancer, and the people who laugh in its face. We need to perpetuate this “happy cancer” myth so that we feel we have some sort of control. If I get cancer, I will dance too, and I will be okayCancer’s not that bad.

But the truth is, most people aren’t dancing. Most people are scared as hell, and isolated and anxious, which is how I feel most days. I can tell you, as someone who loves to dance and loves giving the big EFF YOU to cancer, I most definitely was not dancing the day of my mastectomy. I cried. And I cried for many days after.

I still cry.

I am no less brave.

And neither are you.

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21 thoughts on “The happy cancer dance

  1. Thanks Steph,
    I know in my heart I know that you will survive to a ripe old age… may the road ahead only have small and inconsequential bumps that make life interesting! Be joyful – so much love is streaming your way through so many channels that I feel it on my end.
    XXOO

  2. I totally agree. I face my cancer and its after effects by getting up every morning and doing what I had to do. I was scared as hell. I am sorrowful in the fact that I have lost my fertility. But I get up every morning and do what I have to do. We all do. Because cancer diesn’t define me. So very well said.

  3. So well said — and reminded me of how much I loathe hearing that someone ‘lost their battle’ with cancer. Using the word ‘lost’ seems to suggest that if only they had been stronger or braver or more determined, then they would have won. Sadly this is not always the case, and it has nothing to do with who is or is not brave or courageous. It is just a horrible fact of cancer. The friend I lost recently wasn’t less brave, she was more sick. Despite all her and her doctor’s efforts, cancer wasn’t stopped. She was sad and scared and angry that she was helpless in the face of the disease. We would never hear that someone ‘lost a battle’ with a car if they were in an accident and cancer is no different — it barrels at you full tilt, and some people are flattened and the lucky ones are tossed aside but get up scarred and shaken and carry on. We all hope that everyone will get up and carry on, but we cannot overlook the fact that cancer isn’t a fair fighter.

    • I hate the “lost their battle” as well… I could probably go on about that forever! If anyone ever said that about me, I would come back to haunt them! ;) No one who dies from cancer is any less strong/determined than anyone who survives it. It’s just luck. My still being here has nothing to do with my “fighting spirit” although many people would like to argue that that’s part of it… to each their own.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Chris, you write very eloquently.

  4. Hi Steph! I watched that video today and I thought it was great that she was able to react that way right before surgery. But for me, those two years I fought cancer, half the time I felt like crying, I felt upset, angry that this was happening to me. Before my first surgery, even though I knew my surgeon was amazing, I was still scared shitless. Fear of the unknown and all. Also, my whole life I’d been very afraid of surgery and now here I was going under the knife. Even before my second surgery this year, I was still so nervous going in. It’s true …everyone who’s ever been diagnosed reacts differently. We’re all different people with different strengths and weaknesses. And just because we cry or panic, it doesn’t make us any less brave. It makes us human. Thanks for writing this post! – Donna

    • Yes we all deal with it very differently. I definitely have my moments where I feel like I can deal with anything and where I can make jokes and find the humor in everything. And then there are other times where I just want to hide under my blanket and curse the world and hate that I have to deal with all this every day. There is no guidebook, that’s for sure!
      Thanks for always reading, Donna!

      • Awww….I completely understand Steph! I’ve felt the same way on occasion. Even now, I’m always thinking it’ll come back. It’s hard not to think that way. I’m trying though! Your’re welcome! Thanks for writing such honest posts.

  5. You’ve spoken beautifully to everything I have been thinking & feeling since I saw the “viral” video.I felt what that woman was doing was/is moving and beautiful, but no less so than anyone/thing else that gets un-sung….Thank you, Stephanie. Pam (friend of David H.)

  6. hmm… yep, when I was told I had ovarian cancer and had a radical hysterectomy I screamed (apparently silently as no one else heard my howls) and then I cried and mourned the loss. Even though I had my three babies, I mourned the ones I could not longer bear. I then cried thinking I wouldn’t see my son grow a beard and my girls hit puberty… I didn’t join support groups and didn’t express myself – I never really felt I needed to.
    I didn’t hide my cancer, instead I told everyone I could about my story so they would know that early detection and knowing your body could save your life. That was 23+ years ago, and now I am turning 60 and I celebrate the joy of being alive and healthy. But back then I didn’t feel lucky and I didn’t feel joyful – I was confused and scared and turned inward. Courage and bravery were not on my radar, survival was the operative word. I was consumed with willing myself back to health so I could enjoy my children and future with my husband, family and friends.
    You, Steph are the voice of many of us then and now, who don’t express those hidden feelings of fear and anger. The important thing is that we should dance and rejoice when we feel like it and we must be able to accept the fact that everyone owns their private way of dealing with whatever life throws their way!
    I for one, am glad you are keeping up with the blog… I look forward to reading it and always find inspiration.
    Sending you Love

    • Thank you Fanny and I agree with everything you said! Everyone deals in his/her own way. I just wish people would realize that there isn’t only one “good” way and one “bad” way to do it. I saw a lot of people commenting on the Huff Post article who had cancer, saying they didn’t feel as brave as this woman who was dancing, and they wish they could have felt like that… And that’s what made me write this, because it made me feel sad that anyone would think they had to “feel” a certain way or portray a certain “type” of bravery. I am sure this woman had many moments where she was not dancing, especially after the surgery, and I would hope people would still think she was awesome and brave during those times too.

      I am so happy that you did see your girls go through puberty and all that fun stuff… and many more milestones ahead! 60 years old! I hope that can be me someday :) xoxo

  7. i do not see joy here. she is an M.D. and possibly works in this hospital. i see a wistful smile and awesome support from the nurses. i think her dance is “one for the road” before they put her under. no one who has cancer is happy about it. i for one never cried. i just got up every day and did what i had to do…an appointment, a treatment, a walk,….and soldiered on. everyone copes (or not) in their own way. yes your journey down this road sucks. but don’t take it out on people who thinks she looks brave. she does. but who knows what happens when she is in the privacy of her home. i think that everyone is terrified of cancer and the comments about her bravery echo what viewers fear. the thought of death. the loss of a body part is traumatic and often needs to be accompanied by some therapy and/or antidepressants. have you joined wellspring? they are a wealth of support if that is what you need and are staffed by people who have been there.

    • Hi Shannon. I think you misinterpreted what I wrote/felt. I am not “taking it out” on people who thinks she looks brave. I think she is brave. I think everyone who has cancer shows bravery in one way or another. I am saying that as a society, we typically only take note of these types of cancer narratives as being “brave” and not the other ones, where people aren’t dancing/singing/etc. People often don’t want to talk about, or circulate stories about the “other” side of cancer. The ones that don’t go viral.
      These are just my personal feelings on the matter and not meant to speak for everyone who has ever had cancer.

  8. This is such an important point and good for you for making it! I think you underestimate the impact of your own following. The way you write and share with the world is incredibly courageous.

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