018: Dancing through Diagnosis & Reclaiming Your Feminine Energy

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

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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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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.