Deal with It
From my small home town in southeast Texas, I have traveled the world developing my career as a performing artist and choreographer. In the dance world, the fact that I had trained with the Joffrey Ballet made finding teaching jobs almost effortless; in fact, they seemed to find me.
Something I have never made public (until now) is that after just a few weeks in New York, I was felled by astro cytoma, a form of brain cancer that can occur during puberty. I was left wheel-chair bound for the next two years, 80 percent paralyzed on my right side. A year after surgery and radiation, the malignancy returned and even more invasive surgery was required. But my ballet training and the self-discipline that had been drilled into me in my youth made it possible to leave that wheel chair and put the pieces back together.
Forty years later, I can say that I have had a successful life in the arts and have never had to seek any employment outside of the performing arts. In 2006, with a second career in academia in mind, and with the help of Celia Hughes at VSA Texas (http://www.vsatx.org/), I enrolled at St. Edwards University; recently I completed a master’s degree.
My blog is about self-healing, without any magical or ritualistic nonsense; it’s about the ability in all humans to pick up the pieces left after life-threatening trauma. I want to discuss working with one’s remaining strengths to become a whole person again. I want to share my opinion on what the human body is capable of if we are diligent in keeping our minds clear and focused. I refer to it as balance, and no two people have the same issues. So claiming your own dominion instead of being defined by outside influences is the only way to re-create a meaningful existence.
We all should be thankful that doctors and modern medicine can somewhat mend physiological problems—to a point. It is important that a person stay in touch with their own existence and not allow external dynamics to define who they are. Finding that part of the mind that manages and refines your person as you progress through life is vital in the process of healing. The ability to cope with life in a pure and innate way can bring about a more meaningful existence.
I started training before I started school, so my first input from a source outside my family was a teacher educating me about my own body. Florence Coleman showed me how to contain and control my movement over a span of about twelve years. This consistent input created an environment of studying my way of moving in a mirror and making the appropriate adjustments. I thought of it as posture in motion. Little did I know she was preparing me for something much greater: the ability to heal myself after being left with paralysis on the entire right side of my body.
I remember asking my neurosurgeon at fifteen what paralysis is. He told me it is the inability of the brain to communicate to the involved part of the body. Dr. Teasdale (now Sir Graham Teasdale) also talked to me about bio-feedback and how new neuro pathways can be created to take the place of those that were destroyed. I had already created a mind/body connection while I was in training. Thinking about every movement and analyzing every nuance of what is reflected in the mirror utilized the brain and the physical body.
In just a few years, personal knowledge put me back on my feet. It wasn’t magic or divine intervention, but something I carried within me, knowledge of how my body works and doesn’t work. There are still indications of a problem with my walking and balance, and I even had to become a lefty due to an affected right hand. But it is my reality, and I intend to stay connected to it for the rest of my life. I realize there are others with similar experiences, so hearing from you through my blog would be interesting for me and possibly others who have encountered a life-altering injury. My mission is to inform others that there is more to ballet than a tutu and a tour jete’ (or using proper terminology, grande jete’ en tournant.)