018: Dancing through Diagnosis & Reclaiming Your Feminine Energy



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Episode Summary:

Tammey talks with Suzanna Davis, dance artist, dance teacher, founder and host of RakasaFit™ and Belly Dance Off. Suzanna shares how dance fitness helped her maintain physical and mental health through her breast cancer diagnosis. In this authentic and vulnerable conversation, Tammey and Suzanna talk about how they answer the "Are you cured?" question, the impacts treatments have on partner intimacy, and fitness. Suzanna shares with us how her RakasaFit™ program can easily be modified for those going through their own diagnosis, and they discuss the challenge of staying motivated vs. finding new motivation when it comes to fitness.


Topics in this Episode:

  • Intro

  • No Clear Margin

  • Dancing through Self Perceptions

  • Seeking Self-Esteem

  • Intimacy, Sensuality, and New Realities

  • Forced to Become a Quick Study

  • Your'e Cured Now... Right?

  • Performing through Radiation

  • No Time for a Break

  • Staying Motivated vs. Getting Remotivated

  • Dance Fitness for Everyone

  • Sign off

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Transcript:

Intro

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Hello, and welcome back to Your Killer Life. I am so excited to have you joining us. And I have a fantastic guest joining me today, and that is Suzanna Davis. She is a dance artist, a teacher, founder and host of RakasaFit™ and Belly Dance Off. And we are gonna be talking about breast cancer, and we are going to be talking about fitness. And we're probably going to be talking a little bit about body image, and these are all things that we all go through as we get this diagnosis.


So Suzanna, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today.


Suzanna Davis: Thank you. I'm delighted and so happy to be here. Thank you.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh, you bet. So happy to have you. Well, tell us a little bit about you and tell us a little bit about what the heck dance artist, teacher, founder... what is RakasaFit™, tell us a little bit about all that.


Suzanna Davis: Sure. I actually have been dancing most of my life. I mean, it started out just me as a little girl, in my living room dancing, all my parents' record albums, and trying to come up with new moves and new combinations. And then eventually, not too far after that, they got me into some formal training. It started out with a lot of the traditional dance classes that we do in the US ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary.


So I continued to study those forms. And then, as I became curious about the world, I also became curious about dance and different dances from around the world. And one thing just kind of serendipitously led to another, and I saw a belly dancer. Kind of somewhere in my early adult life. And I had the reaction many women have when they see that: "I want to do that."


And so it didn't happen right away, but I, it kind of called me back again. I was getting my degree in theater, and there was a play, and there was the character in that play who was a belly dancer. And I said, Oh, I, I really hope I can get this part. And I auditioned. And, um, I had already decided the teacher that I would hire to train as an actor and really go into that deep character study.


And then also, of course, learned some things about this dance form. And so that's. That was kind of what launched me in belly dance. And I had been steadily studying all the different forms of Middle Eastern dance. Fortunately, that teacher, she's this amazing Armenian woman. And so she really gave me a kind of a deep perspective and all these different pathways.


Um, to further my study, way far beyond what you would see as a cabaret show in a restaurant, for example, right. Although my training, you know, didn't just go kind of in a linear path from that point. Cause I did some more traveling, and I became a mom, and I became a wife. I picked it up back again and really started training back.


I think it was 2000 or so. Then it took me a while to actually want to take it outside of my living room. So, um, I found that with this dance, um, it was my meditation through movement, and it was, it became kind of my movement therapy, and I was finding so much satisfaction in it and fitness in it.

So it was giving me a level of strength and a level of fitness that I wasn't actually getting through any of the different movement forms that I had practiced. Um, in addition to the dance training, cause I had also done all kinds of like running and, um, different races and lots of biking and you know, different forms and this was... it just seemed like it was complimenting everything else.


And at the same time, um, giving me my spirit, something that it was needing as well and that kind of confidence and empowerment. So that's how I got into what we call belly dance. And from there, all kinds of other things happened.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Life, right? So, so you're here talking to me. And so that that means that you were at some point diagnosed with breast cancer. So let's talk about that a little bit. And one of the things that I just, I appreciate so much about you being on the podcast, is that breast cancer, unfortunately, it really is indiscriminate.


It will find whomever whenever. Yeah. And you being very healthy and very active. And I know for me personally, I had a lot of people who were like, how could you have breast cancer? You always eat organic. You always work out. You always, right. Yeah. But it does. So tell us a little bit about that. When were you diagnosed, and if you don't mind, what was your diagnosis and then what did you choose for your treatment path?


Suzanna Davis: I was diagnosed right in the middle of the major snowstorm that we had last year. So it was last year on February 11th, February 11th, 2019. I had just had a biopsy, and I was supposed to go in to get the results, but there was no way of anybody driving anywhere. So they did what they really we're trying to avoid, and they deliver that news over the phone when we were all just kind of locked in, and it was a staged later. Um, I guess as, as many of us, you know, end up finding out that they don't, they're not able to stage it right away. It was 2b, HR2-, hormone estrogen, and progesterone positive. Although, in my case, it was later explained that really it's mostly just estrogen positive. The amount of progesterone positive was pretty negligible.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: And then did you choose lumpectomy? Mastectomy, unilateral, bilateral.


Suzanna Davis: Yeah. Uh, I chose lumpectomy, and that was kind of... ended up being a traumatic part of my journey. When I went into the MRI, they said, "Well, you know, we actually just found that we were not seeing in the other imaging, another mass on the opposite breast. So now we need to actually do a biopsy on that." Because we're not playing around, you know, anything we see at all they're just going to do a straight in and biopsy that thing.


And the results were, yeah, it's benign as I, um, I had throughout my life had, um, various benign lumps. And this was just another one, but the surgeon advice that this benign one, it was of the sort that could turn into malign and would I like to also just remove that one, which is on the other breasts.


So. There was also kind of, of course, the hidden agenda or not so hidden of maybe in this way, we would also end up with breasts that are not uneven, you know, with the lumpectomy thing. So I said, yeah, sure. Go ahead. So I ended up actually having surgery on both.


And then I got a call. Some ten days later and I didn't know this could happen.


No Clear Margin

So I really just like, this was actually in some ways harder than, I don't know, nothing's harder than hearing the original the diagnosis, but it just, I just, I can still feel kind of the knot in my throat from, um, When she said, "Okay, so actually, uh, they did not get a clear margin on the tumor on just one side."


They, as in she. "And what that means is that she needs to now go back in and do another surgery and cut some more tissue out." That just led to, you know, a derailment of questions on my side. I was like, well, What happens if you just don't get a margin again? What if they're just continuing? How is this, like, how does this work?


You know, I just assumed that we were, you know, progressing from here, and I really started to face death. Right there. Like that was when I started to really look at it. I, I think I was before, but I was kinda just trying to hold on to, okay, well, you know how everyone in the community, the surgeon, and all the medical people that I'm talking to seem to think that there is life after this.


So I'm going to go with that. But then when. Dealing with this really real kind of scientific thing of that. There are still cells in there. And how far do we go? And it was toward my chest wall too. So I was like, eeeee, cutting inward and further. What if... yeah. Anyway.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: You know, it's funny until you're there, you know, not funny as in hilarious, but funny as in interesting, right. That until you're there and until you're going through it, you don't realize that there's sort of, all of these different iterations of awareness is probably the best way to put it. And.


Suzanna Davis: That's so well, yeah, that's perfect.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Because when you're, when you're from the outside, and it's not, you you're like, Oh yeah. So, you know, what they do is they do a surgery, and then you do this, you do that. And bada boom, bada bing your back to being... whatever. Right. And then when it's your body, and it's you, you're like, it is just as different awareness.


And so did you have more lumpectomy then or did, at that point you choose to do something different?


Suzanna Davis: I had more lumpectomy. So she ran in, and she grabbed some more tissue, and we all had our fingers tightly crossed and the lab, you know, took a good look at that and they say, yeah, she's clear. I got cleared. Um, and then particularly, because of that, like clear but clear, but you know, um, the fact that that kinda was even of lingering, no pun intended, you know, um, made the, um, radiation part kind of an imperative. And I was actually like, can we avoid this? What can I do to take the natural approach? I don't want to do radiation or any of it, you know like we did the surgery and I already like, that was something just beyond what I ever imagined would happen.


And, um, I had in my life actually, no surgeries. So the idea of surgery just freaked me way out and actually kind of still does. Um, so I thought, "well, I haven't totally committed and signed off on this idea of radiation," and then uh, basically, it was explained to me that like, Oh no, no, you really do need to do that. So I kind of went all right.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: And then what type of cancer did you have? Was it ductal? Was it lobular? Was it?


Suzanna Davis: I'm amazed that I'm actually starting to lose track of this. It was ductal. Uh, ICDS.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Okay. Gotcha. Great. Yeah. So ductal and I, I asked that because a lot of folks don't know that there are so many different kinds and I was actually doing a pre-screen earlier with a, with another podcast host. Who's amazing. And she was LCIS, so she was lobular. That was still in situ. And so, yeah. It's they are different, and they're all treated different and, and all that good stuff, so...


Suzanna Davis: Well, he explained that in my situation, yes, there was a certain amount of the cells had found their way outside of the dots, and we're starting to expand.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh, okay. Yeah. Yeah.


Suzanna Davis: So somehow that put me in kind of two different areas with that acronym that I'm not remembering very well.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: That's okay. You know what? I am not going to bring that to the forefront of your mind if you have already started to move past it.


Suzanna Davis: I was like repeating all of this, like a mantra all of last year. So I'm like, oh, I can't believe, I don't remember this.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: That's awesome, actually. So let's talk about lumpectomy for a second, and let's talk about body image. We're... when you, after your lumpectomy, were you prepared for what you saw postoperatively when they unwrapped and how did that impact you?


Dancing through Self Perceptions

Suzanna Davis: I think I ended up being better adjusted than I thought in the early stages. Cause I could feel once the pain medicines wore off that, like yeah, I've been cut into, so I imagine that it would probably look about the way I, that felt did. The surgeon did a pretty good job. So. You know, technically speaking like the incisions were pretty good and all of that, I wasn't nearly as troubled by, as I anticipated being as much as I've mentioned, how I was freaking about my surgery, I guess.

Also, though, and this kind of segues at some, we don't need to go there yet.


I was getting back up and getting myself out to teach my class as soon as I possibly could because it was like that was what was going to make me feel good again and alive again. And um okay about all of this and you know healing, et cetera. Um, so I, I really feel like having gotten out there not too soon, but as soon as I could also help my perception of what I was seeing, when my clothes are off, you know, from, from the top-up.


I will say that it was really in the months later. And honestly, so I had to do the radiation treatment, but it came rather late. Compared to, I think what they expect. So I was, well, I don't remember the number of months. So two surgeries that I had back to back were in March, and then my radiation was throughout the whole month, June.


So like June 1st through June 28th. And. It was around then, and even the months after then, because of course, radiation does all kinds of distortions. Well, that's a whole nother story. It really like, I had some real severe effects with the radiation, um, with pain and burning and all of that. Um, and even some infection.


It was kind of in the latter half of 2019 when the dust was starting to settle that I kind of also mentally was starting to settle. Cause I wasn't so much in like survivor mode, and just, you know, let's just get through this. I don't care how I look, you know, like let's just be alive... that I was in tears, really in tears about how I felt about my body. And I guess what made that so much harder is the fact that some of the medical team that I was involved with was, um, treating me like, "Well, what's the problem? It was a lumpectomy." So. Like the idea is that, you know, we left as much as we could there and that you still look somewhat close to what you did. "Like what's the problem. There should be no problem here." Right?


And that people weren't able to actually see, um, my sadness, made me even more isolated, you know what I mean? And made me feel like there was nowhere to turn and no, nobody to explain this to. I ended up finding somebody really empathetic among that team. And so that helped a lot.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: That's good. And were you able, did you find any, um, groups, survivor groups that you also connected with? Were you able to find other women who'd been through it that could empathize and where you get out of that camaraderie?


Suzanna Davis: No. So the short answer is not to like the groups. I have been pursuing art therapy, uh, and that's been. Fantastic. Like it's been the best form of therapy period besides working through this. So maybe that's helped I'm sure it has helped. Um, and then there are survivors, um, within the belly dance community that I've maintained really good contact with, and they were helpful.


So I don't know that I ever really was able to truly share like... how uncomfortable I felt about my body for quite a while. And it's now I'm now feeling more comfortable. So it's almost kinda like a past, I'm speaking about a past feeling. Yeah.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah, there's, there is no doubt about the physical brutality of it. And that's not to say that they're brutal and it happening, but the physical appearance, whether it's the lumpectomy or the mastectomies, it's jarring, especially when you're used to your end. Of course, you know, amplified with radiation where you've got scarring burning and tissue changing and adjusting to your and fighting to maintain your range of motion, and you know, your appearance to the best of your ability. And. And I think that I know for me, one of the most difficult things is that you just can't escape it because every time you get out of the shower, you are reminded that this is a part of you.


Now that this is was in you, you and that you've fought this battle, but you still, you know, it. It took me a long time. I actually have a, I have a card on my desk where my guy wrote down blank dates for when I would feel sexy again, when I would, um, I forget what the four are now, but I keep it handy, but the pressure being on-camera... I can't remember.


Um, but yeah, but you know, the same kind of thing of just getting back to understanding that for me, I won't speak for anyone else, that my old normal that I was reaching for was like trying to hold the same water in a river. Right. Like you can't do it that normal, that ship had passed.


And so. Now, what does my new normal look like? And how do I get back to embracing and loving that person again? And it was kind of like being a teenager all over again. Right? Like I already went through coming to peace with my body and getting to like myself and be confident in this thing. And here I am going through that all over again.


Seeking Self-Esteem

Suzanna Davis: Yeah, it's hard to explain. And I... without having gone through it. Um, I know I've heard women talk about this before, but yeah, I really felt, I felt damaged and kind of unqualified. I don't know. Like I just felt like I wasn't. Really, um, I don't know, like I felt like I had this big, a huge wound on, you know, kind of that I was wearing that everybody could see.


They couldn't; you know what I mean? But it just, it's, it's so much about confidence as, as is all things right. It's so much about confidence. And so, um, even if, is that thing that. You're feeling super self-conscious about his kind of like is deteriorating your self-esteem, it's totally invisible to the rest of the world.


If, if you your self-esteem is deteriorated, then that affects everything else.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Absolutely. And it does. I mean, and I will say for me, it affected everything from just my, my interactions with people, the social anxiety that I had, that I didn't, I had never had before and was something I had at the end of all of my surgeries. It was almost like, how do I interact with people and talk about "not cancer things" now that that's not my focus 100% of the time, the intimacy in the bedroom, it impacts that when your body confidence is...


Suzanna Davis: Big time. So that's where I still struggle. I was like, oh, I'm not sexy. You don't touch me here. I know I'm not sexy. You know what I mean? Just sound bad.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yes, I do


Suzanna Davis: You know, I need to work on that. Right. But I just feel absolutely not, you know, in that regard.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Well... and that's, that is part of


Suzanna Davis: And I hope that wasn't TMI, but.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: No, Griff and I did an episode on sex, intimacy, and his perspective, and I asked him some pretty, uh, probably unfair questions in that episode. Actually, we didn't... we're unscripted here. So we like natural flow and authenticity and,


Suzanna Davis: You can always edit me, right?


Intimacy, Sensuality, and New Realities

Tammey Grable-Woodford: There we go, no need for that though.


And it's such an important topic, and it's one that I'll be talking about more on the podcast in future episodes, because quite frankly, intimacy is something that's hard to get back to, you know, for those that haven't been there, not only is there the feeling damaged and not feeling sexy and trying to find reclamation, there's the lack of sensation there's, you know, it's just all so different and then confidence.


And I will tell you for the longest time. You know, we would, we would stop mid intimacy because I would be, I would start crying. Like I just couldn't stand the way I looked, interestingly, that was not the issue for him, but for me. Right. And that was sort of one of those moments where we had a conversation where I'm like, I get that you're good with it, but I'm not. And that's impacting me. I'm not okay with this. And...


Suzanna Davis: Oh, my gosh. I am going to cry.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh, I am sorry.


Suzanna Davis: No. Yeah. My make-up is going to run. Yeah, but I just feel so much direct empathy. Yeah, exactly.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: And I think the hard part is that that is normal, but because we are in a society that we don't typically talk about sex when it comes to women, right. Intimacy, like it's, it's always hush, hush, like. Whatever. You know, I think that that's a challenge. And I think that it's, it is tied with so many other things from frankly, you know, overall health, right?


Health should be mental health, sexual health; it's health. And all of it needs to be we discussed, and all of it needs to be brought to light. And so thank you for sharing, sharing that, because that is such a huge part and you're normal. And I think that that's an important thing too, is that it's a normal part of this process.


And we don't talk about it. That being a normal part of the process. And, and we should, I wish more providers did. Right? Like I wish, it's a huge part of your erogenous zones. Yeah. And


Suzanna Davis: Yeah.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: It matters. So.


Forced to Become a Quick Study

Suzanna Davis: You.. like, I don't want to derail, but you just brought up something moments ago that is also something that has been a curiosity of mine, which is before this all happened to me, I didn't know much about cancer because I didn't need to know, and so what I ended up struggling with over and over again, once I was forced to quickly learn, based on what was happening to me, and I just can't believe how fast I absorbed so much, then when the outer world would ask me what was going on, and I would immediately go into some of the topics, you know, terms that were being given to me and explained to me, and I would say, well, what's happening is they're doing this and this and this. And then I could just see eyes completely glazed over. And so it's been a process for me, and it still is of how to communicate this to the outer world.


And especially with the big question of, "So, but... you're all good now everything's good now? You're clear?" That's the one where I really stood up. You're clear. I'm like it's cancer, and there's no way to know you're clear, but they, you know, that term is used and tossed around in reference to recovery and cancer.


So we can't blame general public for asking that, right? But that's as a side note, it's like at the same time, and I know that what people want as they want me to respond. "Yes. I'm all clear." They just kind of would love to have this, um, you know, have a positive conclusion, and then we move on to other things, other topics.


Right? You know, so I'm, I'm still kind of trying to so navigate and find a way of how to, how to be sincere or maybe when not to be as sincere as I might otherwise. Right?


Tammey Grable-Woodford: You know, that is such an interesting one. The, are you cured? Are you in remission? Are you, are you okay now? Is it so do you still have cancer? And I think part of it is you're right. Like until you're diagnosed with a lot of the vernacular around cancer is, it's not part of your vocabulary, it's just not.


And then you're right. It's systemic. And you think you're done, but you don't know. So I'm terrible. I'm one of those that I'm like, "Well, today, as far as I know." Right? Like...


Suzanna Davis: That's exactly what I do. Oh my gosh. Yeah.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yes, there's also...


Suzanna Davis: I'm super delighted. Actually. I'm I'm so relieved. I'm like; it's not just me saying that. Okay, great.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: No, and there's also this weird part of me that's like, well, I don't want to jinx it by saying, heck yeah, it's GONE! Which is absolutely silly and weird superstition, which... right? Like it makes no sense. It's perfectly illogical. I know this, but part of me is like afraid to say that. And maybe it's because I'm afraid to say that because should it return.


I don't; I don't want to have planted this seed of being impermeable that it's


Suzanna Davis: Yeah.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: ...being Bulletproof, but that's the other thing and, and such a great point because you're right. When you have cancer, you go through the scans, you go through all this stuff. Yet my cancer lobular is really sneaky. One of the reasons I had a bilateral mastectomy is because it doesn't always show up on mammogram.


It rarely shows up on mammogram. And so I didn't want to fight with an insurance company every year about why I needed an MRI with contrast on the healthy breast, and it also tends to be bilateral. It doesn't metastasize in the same places as ductal does. And so I have to, you know, basically, the oncologist said to me, well, if you have a cough that doesn't go away if you have bone pain that doesn't go away, come see us, and we'll do some scans and see if there is anything.


And so even in that, it's not like you have this. At least nobody gave me a stamp on the forehead of approval, said "bonk, you're clear. Me too.


Suzanna Davis: Yeah. I just keep coming back for check-ins.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right? And that's all you can do. So it is ever-present. And I will tell you that from a mental health perspective, that is one of the hardest things, at least for me is there's the PTSD, everybody else is very anxious for you to be healthy again. You know, looking at you, looking at me, nobody would look at us and say, Oh, you know, you guys have just been through the coliseum and fought for your life. Right. So, and we never know what traumas people have gone through and what medical trauma, or what chronic pain. Like we don't know that. And, but that has been one of probably the harder mental challenges, is having the awareness that it could come back at any time. Having the awareness that the modifications that happened to my body are there and they're there permanently and, and trying to make peace and find beauty in changes that I never would have chosen for myself.


Having to make choices for my treatment. Yes. I was still able to have some, some control over that, but these are not choices I would have selected to choose from in any other situation. So, you know, there's that loss of control.


You're Cured Now... Right?

Suzanna Davis: What, I love what you said about, um, the way you respond to the question are, you know, are you good now? And you say, well, "I'm fine today. I'm healthy today. Today. You know, I am good." And. I've been using that exact response as well. And the element that I love about that is it reaffirms the reality that today is for any of us, the only fine that we know of.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah.


Suzanna Davis: You know what I mean?


So really like being alive and present in today. Cause that's all we have.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Exactly. I love that I often say "alive in your diagnosis," right? Because, at least for me, I came to this point where I was like, I could continue to focus on the loss and trust me, Suzanna. I had days with prescription meds messing with my head. Pain meds and muscle relaxers, just coming off of anesthesia, you know, all of the things that you're going through, all of the fear, all of the frustration, all of the, what feels like never-ending appointments. Those dark times when you're like, is this going to end? And will I even resemble me when I get to the other side of it? Right. So much doubt. And it was a conscious decision of, you know, what am I going to choose to look at and look for and what is going to set me up for success.


And in that for me, I chose to try and find those silver linings and, and to live intentionally and in the day, and in this diagnosis. To be alive, even in the midst of this. So.


Suzanna Davis: Yes.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: But you are more alive than I am on the fitness side. You're disciplined. This is your business. I still... listen. I'm going to be honest. I still struggle. And I know that part of this I'm going to be very honest is I was very disciplined prior to my diagnosis. I was running five to seven miles every other day; the days I wasn't running, I was doing P90x.


I was 43. I was the fittest I had been since my early twenties and very disciplined and very structured. And then this hit, I had my mastectomies, I got back into a little bit of fitness, maintained most of it. I had good range of motion. Great surgeons, great results for the mastectomy. I went and had my expanders placed.


They put those under the muscle. And I haven't started well, depending on when this airs, I am, I might have an episode out on this, but the under the muscle expansion is an incredibly painful process. And when they expand your pectoral muscles, you can only imagine what that does to all the other muscles in your neck and your shoulders and your back.


And, Oh, it's a, it's a body modification, and it was very painful—three months of expansion appointments and being on pain meds and muscle relaxers for those. And I just couldn't work out. So I lost my momentum. And then, in December of 2015, I had the first exchange where they put the implants in, and I also at that time had a fat transfer done. And so they, they did lipo, which was not good for my body. Oh no, that was not a good thing. Oh yeah. So they took fat from my abdomen, and they injected it. My surgeon injected it so that I, it would smooth out and fill in some of those gaps around where the implant meets the tissue.


And so that was severe pain. Again, I ended up in a corset. I ended up having to have endermology. I ended up because I had so much inflammation in my body just retained water. So where they went in and took out the fat, it just immediately filled with fluid. And then those implants had to be replaced April of 2016.


And so basically I, yeah. So what happens to me is that I almost felt as, as illogical as this is, I almost, I felt like, well, once I get started, it's like guaranteeing, I'm going to have to have surgery again, and I'm just going to lose my momentum. And so I quit. I just struggle getting back to being able to put routine in my life.


Now that being said, I hike, I kayak. I still, you know, I'm active. I'm not just a couch potato, but I haven't been able to bring that discipline back in and fitness being such an important part of our health and maintaining our health after the fact. So fitness is your business for starters. So that may, may have helped maybe?


Suzanna Davis: Yes. And in my case, I would clarify and say dance fitness. And I'm emphasizing that because I had been teaching dance every week, practically since 2004. And in 2017, I segue just a little bit and turn the belly dance workout classes that I've been teaching for years, and really kind of officially got a format to deliver. And that's what became RakasaFit™.


And so I had that kind of as my daily routine, if it hadn't been dance fitness, it would have been dance. In other words, I would have had a class to show up for and teach. And so, yeah, I'm just really blessed that I'm already, you know, as kind of present for me and that there were students waiting for me, and you know, I had something that I needed to show up for.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Hard for you to get back into dance. Was there, uh, because radiation, a lot of folks don't talk about it, but there's fatigue associated with that. And you know, just this overall process, I'll be honest, fatigue... it just fatigues you. It does. And so was it hard to get back into it? What challenges or struggles did you face in that, and kind of, how did you overcome that?


Performing through Radiation

Suzanna Davis: Well, in my case, interestingly, fatigue was not a very prominent effect of the radiation. And that was the one that I was really like focused on and worried about when I had all kinds of really bad things happening with my breasts, painful and such. So I didn't have to struggle so much with the fatigue.


And then also, it happened to be that, um, well I had already committed to projects in 2019, and then I got this diagnosis. And so like many of us, I had to figure out, you know, what things am I going to let go of? Or am I going to actually let go of absolutely everything, and one of the projects that I had slated was this production.


And it was involving bringing in international, was international, and it involved bringing a featured artists from Europe. So that was one of the decisions I had to make. Is am I going to go forward with this big production? And kind of get rid of everything else that this is a bigger thing. And I need to notify the artists that are involved, particularly the one that's in Europe to not get her plane ticket and all of that. Right?


And so that show was the first few days of July. I and I didn't know that my radiation was going to be pushed out so much, um, so closely. So I, I was in a situation where by the time, you know, I had already agreed to go forward with that production. I had a partner involved. And so that's the only reason why I went ahead with that.


Where, you know, where I was experiencing kind of the extreme effects of the radiation. I was like, you know, buried in all of the tasks involved in getting ready to do a show, let alone, I was also performing in the show. So some of those tasks were very physical, me getting ready for the pieces that I was presenting.


So I didn't have time to think about anything. And I think, you know, I've heard that from other survivors before. I just didn't have time to feel it, you know? Uh, so in some ways, that was a gift. I really like... I look back because I remember what happened to my breast, how horrible it was, how infected it was. How much pain I was in. How ugly I felt. Gosh, I could go on. Right. And I actually had beings like showings through my costume. Like, I was burned in places that were showing. So I was like, how and how am I going to even do this? And I just... it's too late to not do it now. You got to do it. And that. And so the hardest parts of radiation, I probably just blew right past.


I had a lot of after aftershocks. And so kind of when the artists went back to Europe and the dust settled on that show, I did start to... thankfully the infection and worst parts of the burning and stuff did start to heal. But I was having like lightning strikes. Just come through. Um, and just so, so painful and so sudden and frequent for awhile.


So I'm not, and no answer is about how long that's gonna last, how long I'm going to have to live this way. I feel like I totally got off-topic, though. What was the question?


Tammey Grable-Woodford: We're allowed to do that. We're totally allowed to do that here. The aftershocks. That's actually a great thing to talk about though, because you know, a lot of times, especially for those of us, that when we first start our journey, that's one of those things that I wish was better communicated to us, that with the nerve damage that you're going to have, you know, whether it's a lumpectomy or mastectomy, and I'll tell you one of the most painful things was, I swear, they placed when they did my biopsies, they placed a marker on a nerve.


Because I bent over in the shower and almost passed out that the pain was so severe.


Suzanna Davis: Oh, my god!


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah. So, you know, not being prepared...


Suzanna Davis: I can feel it just with your describing it.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: It was bad. I browned out like it was that I was almost gone. And so the pain, I think oftentimes it's just not communicated clearly. I think it's hard for people. I don't know why I refer to mastectomies as an amputation, as a breast amputation.


Suzanna Davis: Well, it is!


Tammey Grable-Woodford: It is. I am not soft with my language. And just like any other amputation, you have nerve pain, you have ghosts sensations, you have there's all of this stuff that goes on and whether or not it's that just, and I also will tell you, my biopsies were among the most painful process that I had.


And one of them was close to a lumpectomy because it was stereotactic, and they removed 1.4 centimeters of tissue. So. That's a lot of tissue in a biopsy and to do with just Tylenol, and yeah. And so, you know, not being prepared for the pain and that's that assumed knowledge. I think providers it's assumed knowledge to them or if they haven't lived through it.


Right. They, they just don't know. And a lot of my providers until my plastic surgeon were men, and so they don't have a reference point for it, but it's almost like for some reason we detach breasts from women in this way that we don't remember that we need to have a conversation about how this very, uh, yes, feminine, delicate, beautiful, voluptuous curvy part also has all kinds of sensation attached to it, nerves, all these other things, and the lightning strikes and that those aftershocks, right? That that are just not mentioned.


So I'm really glad you brought that up.

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So tell me a little bit about how you got back to. We know you were working out, we know you had that fantastic incentive of having clients RakasaFit is something that is now global, right? Like you've launched for RakasaFit, and you've gone global with it and which is fantastic.


And so you had that, but with it's Suzanna getting Suzanna confident and getting Suzanna back to the point where you wanted to work out, it felt good to you. The dance felt good to you, and how that helped, I'm assuming, help lift you out of some of what you were feeling as far as that giving you back some confidence and some femininity and some of your essence.


Staying Motivated vs. Getting Remotivated

Suzanna Davis: Essentially. I just didn't take a break. I was just kind of, as I explained earlier, just doing as much as I could get away with. So I was really taking things week by week. And of course, the medical staff were not... they weren't giving me really firm boundaries and, um, in a way that was really good, cause they didn't want to set me mentally to what I can or can't accomplish.


So, I mean, I had gigs, I had shows in addition to these classes also that I was like, what am I thinking? Keeping these on my calendar. And then I thought, well but, maybe I can? Let me just wait and cancel them like when I, you know, at the last minute, basically, right. You know, I would have to find a sub to do the gig or something.


So I think having to show up reasonably, right? I mean, I, the class that was four days after my surgery, I did get a sub for that one. Yeah. But as soon as I could, it was really important for me to kind of feel like I was surrounded by people who cared about me and that were kind of part of my tribe.


So it was just important to my overall mental health as well. So I don't think that there was any kind of ramping back up for me. And in some ways, like, even regardless of this, um, incident in my life, something that has motivated me in terms of workouts and doing, you know, you know, week, week after week, you know, kind of seeing in the game is this feeling of like, I have experienced several times in my life, how hard it is to start again, like what you're talking about.


It's just, I mean, it's the hardest thing, and you don't see any results at all. Like the results are so slow that they're practically imperceptible in terms of, you know, weight loss and all these things, you know? So it's not. It's hard to get motivated, or I should say, stay motivated once you start. And just the whole thing, you know, it's hard, everything hurts, you know, so I think like there was very much has been very much a part of me of like, I don't want to have to go through that again.


I don't want to have to start over again. That was too hard. So if I can just kind of maintain. As best as I can, then, um, I I'll have, I'll maintain this baseline, and I won't have to struggle to get back into my program again. Does that make sense?


Tammey Grable-Woodford: It does. I mean, you kind of chose the pain, the pain of restarting or the pain of working through it with everything going on, right. Like,


Suzanna Davis: Well, then I think also. I possibly did some really, really good things for the lymphedema aspects. Because really slowly extending and reaching from all the way inside your core and your chest and, you know, transferring that energy all the way out. Probably did a lot of good things, um, at some really critical times where maybe the tissues would have kind of calcified.

You know what I mean? I probably like created a lot of motion and internally as well with the lymphs, the lymphatic system.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Critical, too, absolutely critical. So that leads me to another question. As we get close to wrapping up, I wanted to ask you about RakasaFit™ and if RakasaFit™ would also if you've been able to make modifications or accommodations for women who have gone through what we've gone through. And want to find a way to work out, because I will tell you I've dabbled in belly dance only enough to spend money on some really cute hip skirts and, um, and play around.


But there is something very feminine and wonderful that connects you to that feminine energy. When you are in that dance, at least for me, I've found that and RakasaFit™'s fun because it it's dance. And I've done some RakasaFit™ classes. You, I don't think I told you that. So, you know, it is that yeah.

That's fitness with dance, which is a lot of fun as well. So, but I want to give you the opportunity to talk about that and talk about whether or not there are easy ways to modify those movements for people who are just getting some of that range of motion back or working on regaining their range of motion.


Dance Fitness for Everyone

Suzanna Davis: Sure. I think that I can go quite a bit further with clear modifications at, for every single part of a combination, for example. And that's kind of an area that I will pursue, but right now I, so the whole system is based on shapes. And so for each combination, we work on just one essential belly dance shape.


Once we establish what that shape is. And for example, a circle or an eight or a straight line, as in the case of a hip lift or hip draw, I, that becomes kind of the core movement. And you could just do that shape with your body and do none of the other things that I'm asking you to do. So that ends up being the modification, kind of, if you strip it down to bare bones, uh, just go back and work on your figure eights, work on the front direction and work in the back direction. And we'll all continue doing this combination while you continue working on your eights, and we'll all finish when the song ends and arrive at the same place. So it's fine.


The other variations are kind of more, uh, in the... I go on the balls of my feet in certain points, just to add intensity similar to the way the barre program does.


Um, so you can get, you know, a tremendous amount of core strengthening and workout, um, by doing a lot of the same things that you would do with your feet flat on your heels down. Um, once you go up on the balls of your feet, you're really deepening the workouts through your abductors, your inner thighs, and your core and ankles, of course. Right?


So that's something that you could opt-out of, for example. Right. Uh, and then we do arm variations, um, which involves holding a lot of times, or if not holding, um, moving from the side and up, and side again. And so, so that can be pretty challenging, especially I've noticed. And so that's another thing that one could just opt out of and just do the essential shape.


So that's, that's how the modification is used at this time.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: I love it. Absolutely love it. So if you had any advice that you would want to leave our listeners with, and, you know, we have women who are in all phases, all stages. And we also have men who are listening. If you were to leave them with anything, what advice, or what information would you want to pass on?


Suzanna Davis: Oh, wow. I wish I had thought about this. Cause it's like, it feels so big, big piece that I am leaving. The treasure. I'm sure that there's something and I just don't know what it is.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Okay, well, and listen, in listening to you. It sounds like just get started, probably.


Suzanna Davis: Okay. Yeah. I was going to say, yeah, in terms of like, if we're focusing on the fitness part of things, then I feel like there's nothing really powerful about this. And it's been said so much before, but it's what it's what's coming, which is just show up. In my case, like, there was a period in my life where I was doing a lot of running, and I would just be moti... I just be like, I don't want to do this run today.


I just, just, and I put it off for another half hour and not have ended. Of course, you know, sun's going to go down. Right. You know? And so, so in that instance, I would tell myself, just put on your running shoes. After that, I don't know. You can go back to your computer; you can go back to whatever it was you're going to do it. But right now, you're just going to put on your running shoes. And once I get those running shoes on, they're not that comfortable anyway, you know, then might as well just go do the run, open the door, and you know, so now I think we're dealing with, um, showing up is probably turning on clicking on a like, a zoom link and joining an online virtual class. Right?


And so I think maybe the hardest part, it still is for me, the hardest part is to just push everything and click that link and then, you know, enable video and just be like this could go really badly. But I'm here. Just not... it's probably going to turn out so much better, then all the bad things, you know, and then, and then you'll connect with people and some parts of it will feel good.


And some parts of it will feel like excruciating, excruciatingly hard, but that's that is exactly as humans how we develop. Like learning how to walk is something that actually takes a lot of development and a lot of trying to trying again. And so like, developing an exercise routine is going to be hard like that, but it's going to be so rewarding.


So rewarding when you kind of have that as part of your weekly habit, it's worth it.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: I love it. And finding your tribe in that process is...


Suzanna Davis: Yes. Yes.


Sign Off

Tammey Grable-Woodford: So where can people find you? If somebody wants to learn more about RakasaFit™. If somebody wants to learn more about these zoom classes and a link to click that you just spoke of, if they wanted to, where can they find Suzanna?


Suzanna Davis: The zoom classes are, I'm actually getting ready to relaunch. I've been, I've overcome some technical things. I think many of us relate to that. And so those I'll be blasting all over Facebook and social media, but, um, all things RakasaFit™ are on the RakasaFit™ websites. So that is spelled like it sounds R A K A S A and the word fit.com and on the classes tab of that, you'll find how to join, which is now an online class. So that's how you sign up for the weekly zoom classes. You can do a drop in. I can do a package of four, and I give you like six weeks, use a package of four. So it's not like you're locked into like, you'll lose a class. Um, and then there's also a monthly subscription program that there's like now about 30 videos in that program where you can work on different combinations, and there's about four different full-length workouts that you can do. Those are recordings. So if you want to back it up and things you can't do when you're doing a live streaming workout. The subscription is a really good value. And also, when you are a subscriber, you get deep discounts on the zoom classes.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Awesome. Fantastic. I will make sure that all of those links are in the show notes for everybody. And like I said, I should have told you when we were in the quote-unquote, um, you know, technical, virtual green room prior to hitting the record button that I had taken RakasaFit™ classes. And they are a ton of fun. They really, really are. They're...


Yeah, they're fun. And you're right. Your modifications are easy to do. And, and we're all in different places. Goodness. If, if only we all had the same side effects and knew what was gonna happen, but for everyone, it is also different, but your courses, um, your classes are easy to modify, so there's so much fun.


Thank you so much for joining me today on the, Your Killer Life podcast.


Suzanna Davis: Ah, thank you.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: It is so great to talk fitness and also to, you know, to just share with everyone that fitness, you can have fitness again, you really can. And, and I love what you said about just show up, because that really is, that is more than half of it.


Suzanna Davis: Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, yeah. Not thinking too far ahead into it. Well, how am I, you know, what happens if I fail? It's just show up.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Or being self-conscious. And I want to say that when it comes to belly dance, that's one of the things that I really appreciate is that it is a very supportive environment. At least every belly dance class I've ever been to. I live in the middle of nowhere. So it's hard for me to find classes, which is why Rikasa Fit is something I did stumble upon, but it is such a good community of women supporting women.


And so when it comes to body image, um, for me, it seems like belly dance is one of the most empowering environments for women of all shapes, sizes, abilities, to really flex their best and build that body image back.


Suzanna Davis: Well, sure. And also it's activating your, like, it's activating your feminine movement possibilities. And so much else doesn't do that. You know what I mean? A lot, a lot else focuses on demonstrating masculine strength. And, um, so it's like you said, it's unique in that regard and, uh, when you activate—those parts of yourself.


Um, I really believe that it works kind of from the physical, into the mental, and the psychological and the spiritual. So I really think that something special happens with a woman with she belly dances. I think there's a reason why it's a timeless movement art form.


Tammey Grable-Woodford: Me too. All right. Well, thank you so much. I apparently can talk to you for forever. So I am going to wrap it up and again, our guest today, Suzanna Davis, and she is I'm going to get this right dance artist, teacher, founder, and host of RakasaFit™ and Belly Dance Off. And we will have links to her website and all of her goodness in the show notes.


And I want to thank you for listening again this week. Please don't forget to like, subscribe, even leave us a rating and authentic one. We always appreciate that. And thank you so much for tuning in until next time. Keep building Your Killer Life.

Remember the conversations you hear on the show are based on unique experiences and varying diagnosis. And we all had our own medical teams. We are not giving medical advice. So if you hear something inspiring, please talk with your providers.  

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