My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women

What Lies Beneath


“In an art form that deliberately conceals the enormity of effort that goes into its creation, we are not meant to see behind the curtain.  But I think that this does a great disservice to the dancers, and that having a sense of what lies beneath both enhances our experience of the performance and leads to a more profound appreciation of the dancer’s essential being.” -Rick Guest, photographer


The thing I admire most about ballet dancers are their ability to make the super human look effortless.  The leaps, the spins, the balancing on toes from movement to movement…it’s as if their bodies are being carried by the wind.  Or their spines are jelly rather than bone.  Their legs are pulled up straight by a string controlled by an invisible puppeteer.  But what is not often known to, or considered by the audience are the hours upon hours of grueling rehearsal.  We don’t see the bruises or see the winces from the sore muscles.  We never see the sweat wiped from faces and chests backstage between entrances and exits.  We never see the blistered or broken toes that are hidden by the delicate, pale pink pointe shoes.

It is the job of the dancer to dance through and in spite of the pain.  Just like an athlete who must still get a goal, a touchdown, or land solidly, without faltering from the uneven parallel bars despite sprained and broken bones.  The show must always go on and it is the job of the artist to hide the hard work and the pain beneath the costume.

After six weeks of taking a medical leave of absence to recover from my DIEP Flap reconstruction surgery, I will be going back to work.  While I love my job and can’t wait to see my students again, I’m feeling trepidatious about getting back to normal life.  I have recovered well, without much incident, but I feel like I’m still recovering.  I can get around and move normally if I’m careful but I don’t have the same energy or endurance as I did before my surgery.  I get really tired in the middle of the day and find it hard to focus or get my energy back without resting.  Each week I experience dramatic improvements and I have every reason to believe that within the next few weeks my engery and endurance will return.But for now, I feel like I have to hide what I feel.

I am always saying, “fake it ’til you make it.”  I say it to students who tell me that their too tired to get up from their seats to play a game or perform a scene.  I tell them that if they fake having energy, that soon they really will be energized.  It’s mind over matter.  If you put on a smile, eventually, you will feel happier than you did a few minutes ago.

I did this throughout chemo and radiation.  I had to hide my fatigue under the costume of smiles and exuberance.  It ended up working for me.  And now I need to do it again.  I must put on my costume and conceal the awful scars that lie beneath; the scar from hip bone to hip bone, that show all of the hard work and healing I have had to endure these last six weeks.  My students don’t care if I was cut in half on January 8th.  And they shouldn’t care.  I’m there to do a job and the show must always go on.

So, on Monday, the alarm clock will go off.  I’ll groan and complain as I walk to my shower.  But by the time I get off the train and walk into school, I’ll have a smile on my face.  I will teach effortlessly, with grace.  No one will see the work it’s taking for me to keep going.  And maybe I’ll get so lost in the moments, the laughter and stories, that I’ll forget for a little while myself.  No one will see what lies beneath.

13 thoughts on “What Lies Beneath

  1. Carrie, your post resonates with me. I also loved your metaphor. I remember I went back to my office right after finishing chemo. After everything I had endured, it was difficult. I had to force myself to continue where I left off despite me feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.

    Sometimes it becomes less overwhelming when we wear our ‘masks’, but in a way, I am also sorry we have to. In my case, pretending helped me manage what others said to me and avoided having to deal with their unwelcome reactions. (I no longer do that.) But there were also times when I wanted to scream and have everyone see what was really underneath. The issue was that even if they ‘saw’ all the pain I experienced, I am not too sure how much they would have understood (or even cared). So I kept my mask on, the same way you will be wearing your ‘delicate, pale pink pointe shoes’ on Monday. I hope each day gets much easier for you.

    Good luck getting back to work but make sure to be gentle and compassionate with yourself too. xoxo

  2. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  3. Hi Carrie. I hope today went good for you. Going back to work is hard. Theres so much to deal with , within ourselves. I am always saying to myself “fake it to I make it” returning to work is good but it can also be draining mentally and phyiscally. I remember a friend telling me that when she went back to work her cancer was the topic for about half an hour and then cornation street was more interesting. {thats a soap in t.v.] But we will keep going and do our best. its all we can do and arrange our lives to help us surrive and do what has to be done.

    • Today was a good start. I just had a meeting and but I’m teaching tomorrow. Hopefully that will go well. Faking it is definitely hard and I think I have crashed recently. I’m just kind of done. But I must keep going. Thanks for reading!

  4. I hope you’re doing okay back at work, Carrie. I’m several months out of treatment and still have less energy than I used to. I hope that will change with time, but for now, I have to be very mindful about how I choose to spend my time– which isn’t such a bad thing!

    • Even going into surgery, I had less energy than I used to. Now with this surgery under my belt, I’ve just checked out!!! I just want to lie on the couch and do nothing all day. I don’t like being this way but it’s where I’m at right now. But…laying on the couch doesn’t pay the bills so…off to work I go!

  5. Hi Carrie, What a perfect analogy. I think we all do a fair amount of faking it because sometimes we have to. The key is to know when enough is enough, otherwise it’s just too darn exhausting on all levels. I hope the transition getting back to work goes as smoothly as possible. Be extra kind, gentle and patient with yourself. Easier said than done I know. Good luck!

    • Thank you! I wish after all I’ve been through, I’d have learned how to prioritize and say no to things. But alas, I haven’t. I’ve already overbooked myself for the rest of the school year. I’m just not good at saying no to things. It is what it is.
      Thank you for reading!

  6. We do what we need to do when we need to do it. When you’re off work, though, take good care of yourself, Carrie. Rest well. xo

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