How do you “claim your body back” after surviving cancer?
Jean Harlow epitomises the curvy female figure, but what do you do when those curves have been cut away?
A few years ago, I had a lady who rang me to say she hadn’t done belly dance lessons for 10 years, but would love to start again. I said she would be more than welcome to join us and asked if there was a particular reason for the time away from Raqs Sharqi. She said she had had cancer of the uterus and after surgery, radiotherapy and chemo treatment, she wanted to claim her body back. She was tired of her body being treated like an enemy to be attacked and talked about like it was separate from her. She was tired of being ill and was now focussed on being well and doing something for herself that brought joy.
So she came to class and over the following weeks I kept track of how she was feeling and physically adjusting. The first week she was frustrated as she felt weak, unfit and her hips felt stiff. The second week, she realised that her body remembered what to do, it was just a bit out of shape. She felt such joy to be doing moves that she had done “BC” (Before Cancer). The third week she said she noticed her hips were becoming more flexible. By the fourth week she was beaming with smiles as she enjoyed doing something for herself and improving. And it continued from there. She truly claimed her body back, and I was so proud of her and got such joy experiencing this with her, and felt inspired by her story.
It got me thinking; especially when it comes to “women’s cancers” such as Uterine, Ovarian, Cervical, Breast etc how does it affect your feelings of womanhood? I cannot speak from experience as I have not had cancer (and knock wood never will) and though my Mother had Ovarian Cancer, she was not one of the survivors, though in the 2 1/2 years she was ill, I watched her go through surgery, helped her mourn the loss of her female organs, and then boosted her moral after she developed self-esteem issues after needing a colostomy bag (her poo bag she called it!).
Use belly dance to improve your well-being after breast cancer
Since then, every day I click on the Breast Cancer site to help fund free mammograms to women who can’t afford them (I get an email sent out as a reminder), but I want to know more. I discovered research has been done on people recovering from cancer and published in the British Medical Journal which found that the cancer survivors who exercised felt better physically and emotionally then those that didn’t. Well if exercise in general can help improve the health and well-being of cancer survivors, than belly dance would too – with the added benefit of helping women feel supported as their bodies have experienced changes. Whether these changes are a mastectomy, hysterectomy or scars, being able to move your body and feel good about it is very liberating. I did some research and came across a group of belly dancing cancer survivors in Pennsylvania called In the Pink, and personal stories and articles from Gilded Serpent and Shira.
So if you are a woman wanting to claim your body back after surviving cancer, do whatever you have to do to feel good about yourself; dance, exercise, laugh and love.