As you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month so apart from urging you to 'think pink' and make a donation to a breast cancer charity, I'd like to share with you an article I had recently published in my local paper, the Stroud News & Journal.
I have loved singing and dancing for as long as I can remember.
One of my earliest memories is prancing round the garden performing Consider Yourself from the musical Oliver to my long-suffering parents. In fact, I was so obsessed with musicals from an early age that it puzzled me that people didn’t burst into song and dance in everyday life.
For most of my adult life, I have taught and performed Egyptian belly dance. I discovered my passion for Arabic music and dance by chance while working in a multicultural secondary school in France, thanks to the enthusiastic encouragement of my students.
It was only really when I got breast cancer for the first time at the age of 31 that I appreciated the healing benefits of dance. At that time I led a very hectic life in London, heading up a marketing department for a leading London publisher and also teaching dance and performing as part of a dance company. I was devastated. My mother had developed breast cancer - but at the age of 60. "Why me, and why so young?" I asked myself, "I just don’t have time to be ill". I remember that when the consultant told me that I would have to come in for surgery the following week, I told him in all seriousness that it was impossible as my assistant was going to be on holiday. Thankfully, he ignored my protests, and I was admitted a few days later. My treatment that time involved a lumpectomy and a course of radiotherapy. I was just grateful that the cancer was still at a very early stage and that I’d got away without a mastectomy and chemotherapy. I felt tired but listening to music and the support and camaraderie that I got from my dance classes really got me through a difficult time and made me determined to get better so I could perform again.
Fast forward 10 years. I had my annual check-up, when I was told that I wouldn’t need to come any more, apart from for an annual mammogram.
Six months later, I was taken in for a mastectomy, followed by a course of chemo.
Reconstructive surgery was not an option at the time. My worst nightmare had come true. A belly dancer with one boob, great. And a bald one, even better.
I knew I was lucky that the cancer, although aggressive, had not spread but nevertheless I felt really low. At times when I felt really low and too exhausted to see anyone, I put on cheerful, uplifting music and just allowed myself to move as much or as little as I wanted.
In time I regained my strength and energy and rejoined the dance company, motivated by the thought of working on a new show. Before, dancing had played second fiddle to my career in publishing but now I knew that life was too precious to waste doing something when my heart and soul craved something else. I wanted to dance – and to encourage other women to do the same, whether through belly dance, African dance, burlesque – or simply bopping around their living room.
This year I discovered Healthy Steps - Lebed Method, and knew immediately that this medically recognised form of movement was a fantastic way of helping other women to discover the healing benefits of dance. So I trained in it and am starting up classes in my area.
Originally created for breast cancer sufferers and people with lymphoedema, it is safe and gentle and so equally beneficial for anyone with limited mobility. It works on the lymphatic system which helps to reduce the swelling associated with lymphoedema, and encourages the body to regain full movement, something that – as I know from my own experience – can be difficult after mastectomy and reconstruction.
But, whatever your age or level of fitness, Lebed helps you to feel good mentally as well as physically, to improve energy levels - and, most importantly, to have fun.
So, that’s my story. I hope that it will encourage you too to discover your inner dancer. Your age, shape, size and level of fitness really doesn’t matter. It is not about steps, it is about feeling good. The way I see it, dancing with the feet is one thing but dancing with the heart is quite another.
PS A big 'thank you' to Tracey Gibbs for this fab picture of me which she took in Luxor during the Fahar Festival this year. Amazing what a great photographer and good lighting can do for you!