Dance: An Answer to Cancer?
“You’re going to do what? Where?”
That was my response when Athan told me he was going to perform a dance at our 4th Annual Aristoleo Awards. Wait a minute my racing mind and pounding heart said silently. You haven’t danced in 38 years and furthermore I’ve never actually seen you dance. Are you any good? How does dance mix with an olive oil awards program. How will serious people react to a dance in the middle of a conference?
Historically, our themed Annual Aristoleo Conference is held in a university assembly hall with speakers and translators and video. Professional. Serious. Last year HRH Princess Basma bint Ali of Jordan was our guest.
I didn’t have time to articulate my thoughts before Athan went on,
“Stephen is coming from Israel. Ruth is coming too. They booked their ticket.” Stephen Horenstein now an internationally accredited saxophonist accompanied Athan when he was dancing in Jerusalem in the 70’s and 80’s.
Athan is serious about this!
All this was sprung as a fait accompli and it was going to happen within six weeks! SIX weeks! We were scheduled to be in Toronto until the first week of May and the conference was on the 13th and nothing was actually planned for the new venue on the island of Aegina and its theme. How on earth was this going to happen?
Not only that, but the World Olive Center for Health was hosting the Health and Nutrition Awards for high phenolic olive oil the day before in Athens. Many of the speakers were staying on to join us in Aegina. Scientists, awards and dance? Oh my.
We were sitting in a café outside the mayor’s office. Athan had just gone in to secure the museum to perform and present awards. We had been planning the luncheon at a seaside taverna offering ancient recipes using the high phenolic olive oils from the many producers on the Awards theme “Food as Medicine”. I was wondering about the logistics of transporting people from one end of the island to the other when he casually mentioned the dance.
I was shaking my head. Every cell of my business brain was saying, oh no, no, no. This is not good. It’s one thing to add an artistic performance in the middle of a business meeting, but what if it tanks? How can Athan go from sports jacket to leotard and back in front of a gathering? What if Athan can’t do it? What if he falls and breaks his neck? What if …
And … he was going to film it live to FaceBook!!!! My ego was rebelling.
And then the words that silenced it all in a heartbeat.
“You have to understand I have to do this. This is part of my healing. It’s … my answer to cancer. I need your total support.”
How could I respond to that?
From that moment, my heart said “shush” to my practical business mind and I guess I accessed the present moment, because what happened over the following weeks was a series of moments that revealed the soul of the man I have loved and thought I knew for the past twelve years.
Athan had thirty days to prepare. He wasn’t exactly in shape. Doing a demanding dance choreographed for a 20-year old was a another thing all together. Can the 62-year old body leap? Can it sustain the ‘dolphin’ flips across a stone floor?
Athan had three rehearsals at dance studios. The first was mostly stretching and searching memory for the choreography. Tentative leaps, back bends. The second, a week later was informed by deep inner consciousness that rehearsed in his mind. There was the sequence and there was the leap – a baby leap, but a leap. And there too was the wonder in his own mind if he could do it.
The third was studio time ticking away. Doubt. Tension. The performance was a week away. Athan paced the well-worn wood floor. Nothing I could say would be helpful so I stayed quiet holding the space for uncertainty. My son came to sit in for the last half hour and then the magic happened. Leaps, dolphin rolls and the complete sequence. This might just be okay.
I was resolved that it didn’t matter what the audience perception was, what mattered was that Athan do it. He owed it to his soul, which had demanded dance that he denied himself for more than three decades.
Where did Athan’s cancer come from?
There are no definitive causes. However, there are risk factors like heredity and exposure to toxins that stress the immune system over decades. For Athan these likely included swimming in polluted lakes and rivers as a child, amalgam fillings, root canals, working on construction sites before masks were necessary or toxins like asbestos and formaldehyde acknowledged as carcinogens. And then there is chemical soup of municipal water, pesticide laden vegetables and hormone laced meats.
Okay, that’s knowledge but it is now here in the body; in the physical. There is a biopsy that spells trouble. It’s ‘real’ and it’s got a bad reputation for tenacity and wanting to take over. It’s measurable. And for prostate cancer, the traditional treatment is both radical and life altering and hasn’t changed much since 1941.
So how is dance the answer to cancer?
For Athan, it was an antidote to the anti-androgen injections that he had opted to have as an emergency measure after the biopsy to prevent the metastasis of the cancer. The injections and the pills had a very negative and debilitating effect; muscle weakness, brittle tendons and the loss of all sense of libido, the inability to make a strong fist. As a dancer, Athan is very body aware.
“This is unacceptable to me. This is not my answer to cancer. My body isn’t one I recognize any more. I need to dance in order to regain my sense of self.”
It forced Athan to challenge his strength, will and fortitude; to stand in front of a wall of mirrors in a studio at 62 years of age and seek the spirit of the 20-year old. The dance in its power – evoking resilience – sent energy shooting throughout his body. The release of endorphins banished the depression that threatened. It energized the will to overcome and reinforced his commitment to find a more natural and humane treatment for prostate cancer. And it is that resilience that will see him through the experimental treatment of the pilot study and on to regain his health and vitality.
How did we get here?
The irony is we have dedicated our last seven years to the research, testing and promotion of high phenolic olive oil – hence the Aristoleo Awards – and here we are being called to stand squarely in our beliefs. We have initiated a trailblazing pilot study with Athan as sole volunteer for an oleocanthal injection to prove the cancer killing properties of this remarkable phenolic compound on the prostate cancer cells. Could this be a cure? Perhaps and perhaps not. But it may just be a more natural and human treatment to keep cancer at bay and prolong life without compromising its quality until there is a cure. This will change the lives of thousands of men who are diagnosed and face limited options.
A dancer reveres his body in ways that few do. Athan is no different and being the poster boy for prostate cancer was not on his vision board of fame and success. However, he is a realist and is facing this challenge as an adventure in service to a greater good. A more natural and humane treatment for prostate cancer. Athan is not relying solely on this, but continues to research nutrition, supplements and immune system supporting treatments.
How many people say that cancer or some other cataclysmic life event changed their life forever. Priorities shift, relationships deepen, lifestyles change, communication becomes more intimate and the soul gets to be heard.
My deepest experience is that the Life Force within us has an expression unique to each of us. We are called to fulfill this in a way that only we can. And as long as we subjugate the heart to the head, the excellence of the soul to the mediocrity of conventional, we suffer psychologically and/or physically. To draw this expression out when we resist, Life will use any and all resources – including cancer to get our attention and tell us “you are out of harmony”. Does this mean Athan has to become a dancer? Not at all, it means that he now has to dance with Life. Harmonize body, mind and spirit
And how was the dance that day?
In a word, EPIC. The name of the dance is “Resilience”. It is prophetic that 38 years later Athan would prove that resilience and astound an audience with a performance that was inspiring, riveting and joyful. There, in the poster hanging on the wall, is Athan accompanied by Stephen Horenstein as young men. Now, Athan is leaping again – into a future that is unknown but exhilarating in that very mystery called Life.
Following the dance – and yes Athan transited from sports jacket to leotard and back again – he presented the 4th Annual Aristoleo Awards for High Phenolic Olive Oil and Table Olives. It didn’t seem odd at all. At the close of the presentations, Athan shared the inspiration for the Prostate Cancer Pilot Study.
Me agapi – with love,