Cat’s Dance Story – Part Five
You’ve reached the home stretch! You’ve rounded third! Or any other sports metaphor you’d like to insert here. This is the last post in my dance story series, so enjoy the conclusion.
When we left off, I had reached my lowest point in the summer of 2021.
On September 18th, I got a very unexpected phone call. Lindsey (my sister, fellow “Tramp Champ” member, and now NarroWay staff member) called to ask if I would be willing to dance, not in a show, but for the cast party. Every year at NarroWay, we have a party to celebrate another year of performing and to look toward the future. There’s always a theme, and the one for that party was, “What I Did for Love.”
You old-school musical theater lovers will recognize that as the title of a song from the musical A Chorus Line. It’s sung after a dancer suffers a horrible knee injury and the director asks the remaining cast, “What would you say if you were told today that you could never dance again?” It’s a love song to the art of dance.
Since my connection to that story is unavoidable, they wanted me to dance, briefly, to the song.
My first, internal response was, “Absolutely not. I’ll look ridiculous.” But I couldn’t say no. Something in me, that thing that just won’t give up, made me say yes. You see, the last time I danced on stage prior to that, I didn’t realize it was my last dance. I was honored to get an official last dance in front of the people I love most in the world besides my family.
So I drew up my courage, dug out a costume that would fit me, and put together some choreography that I could still do. And, true to something I once wrote in my own novel, September Blue, I only danced for a minute or two, but I made it the best two minutes I could possibly have given. I took a bow and went home, thinking I’d really, finally hung up my dance shoes.
But then, something wholly unexpected happened.
I got mad. When I got home that night, I stayed up for a long time thinking about the experience. And I got angry. Really, really angry. I couldn’t get much lower, emotionally, and I couldn’t bear the idea of living the rest of my life the way I was currently living.
There’s a line in the show Geronimo (a NarroWay production) that was written for a character trying to deal with the grief of losing a close family member. The line is, “Stand up, spirit!” I wasn’t grieving a death, but I was grieving a loss. And my spirit was broken. It needed something to help me “stand up.”
I started thinking about all of the things that were keeping me from dancing. At that point, it was more than just painful knees. I was now a lot heavier than I was when I was first diagnosed with osteoarthritis. I knew that wasn’t making it any easier on my joints, but I felt completely unable to stop eating sugar. Not just because I was sad or tired, but like I was addicted to it. All other foods made me nauseous. I was also unbelievably exhausted all the time. I could sleep all night, wake up for a few hours, and then fall back asleep again. I would fall asleep almost every time I watched television. I even fell asleep standing up a few times and once gave myself a black eye by falling into a bookshelf. The slightest exercise left me out of breath and sweating profusely. I felt swollen, achy, and old, and I was having sudden, random muscle twitches all the time. In just 2.5 years, I’d gone from having some joint pain to be completely debilitated. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was simply wrong. Something more than degenerative bone disease.
The next morning, those feelings were still nagging at me. As I started to take my daily medications, I suddenly remembered being told by a doctor that one of them came with a side effect of craving sugar. He said it very nonchalantly at the time, but it suddenly felt significant. For the first time, I decided to dig a little further into what I was taking and what the side effects might be. After all, after taking these medications for almost three years, I couldn’t say they were helping. So I pulled out those 8-page inserts printed in 8-point font that come with prescription meds and started digging.
Do you know what I discovered?
Two of my medications carried a side effect of extreme sugar cravings. Now, I’ve always had a sweet tooth, but the amount of sugar cravings I was experiencing were just ridiculous. I could compare it to a person who is addicted to cocaine. And it’s not that far off, considering sugar acts much like cocaine in the brain.
After digging a little further, I also discovered that extreme drowsiness, to the point of having narcolepsy-like symptoms, was another side effect of my medication. Finally, profuse sweating, body aches, dizziness, unusual twitching, and motor ticks rounded off the side effects list.
I was stunned. I asked myself, “Are these medications making enough of a difference to justify the side effects?” Then, the more loaded question, “Are my worsening health problems all caused by degenerative bone disease, or medication?” The prospect of the answers was both terrifying and exciting. If there was a fraction of a chance that my health didn’t have to be as bad as it was, I was going to seize it.
After wrestling with it for a day, I made the decision to stop taking two of my meds. Then, I got rid of the ice cream, made my bed, looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Stand up, spirit!”
Over the next week, I weaned myself off of one med and simply stopped taking the other. (This was the safe way to do it, per my doctors.) I’m not going to list the medications because I believe the decision to take, or not take, any medication, should be made by each individual and their doctor. And I don’t want to vilify any medication simply because it did not work for me. After a week of feeling weird and a few other side effects, those medicines were out of my system. And what has happened since then is nothing short of amazing.
Immediately, I had so much more energy. The days of being so tired I could fall asleep standing up were gone. Almost instantly. Even though the pain in my joints was still there, the overwhelming body aches and desire to lie down all day also went away. Within about 10 days, I was no longer sweating every time I walked up the stairs. Finally, those intense sugar cravings? They were gone. I mean gone. And by no longer eating only sugar, I have lost nearly all the extra weight. I lost seven pounds in just the first two weeks.
I also realized that sugar was essentially the third drug I was taking. Some research has shown me that sugar can be as addictive, and destructive, to your body as cocaine. And that’s not an exaggeration. If you’d like to learn more about it, check out, That Sugar Film, an excellent documentary. Here’s the link to it on Amazon:
Over the past three months, I have seen such an incredible change in my body that it’s hard to put it into words. I was given a diagnosis that felt like a death sentence. Maybe not immediate death, but I felt like my life as I knew it was over. I believed I would spend the next 10 years slowly becoming more and more immobile until I was actually bedridden. I was sure I would never do any of the physical activities I love so much again. To discover that wasn’t true was mind blowing. It may sound melodramatic, but it’s like being given my life back. There are just no other words to describe the experience.
And it happened because I dug deeper into what I was putting into my body. Because I will never accept defeat if there’s one more card left to play. And because people who care about me asked me to dance one more time.
I still have degenerative bone disease. There are things that are hard for me to do, like jumping more than a foot or two or climbing lots of stairs. Instead of running for exercise, I use a low-impact elliptical machine. I don’t know if I’ll ever dance on pointe again. But just being able to say, “I don’t know,” instead of, “I can’t,” is a beautiful thing. I am learning that the orthopedist was right–the stronger I become, the more those muscles compensate for the joints. I found a crack in a door that appeared closed, and I’m going to wedge my foot in and shove it open for as long as I can. Now, every day, there is the chance I will dance.
And I will never take that for granted again.
“Kiss today goodbye,
And point me toward tomorrow.
We did what we had to do,
Won’t forget, can’t regret
What I did for love”
You did it! You read my whole dance story. Or watched it. Either way, you now know one of my stories, and you can celebrate the ending with me. Thanks for coming on the journey.
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And, as always, remember to love one another. Love blindly, boldly, and without bounds.