How I Kept on Going - My LIFE & the Breast cancer Diagnosis...

 Happy to see that my hair has grown back after my first diagnosis - 2006

Happy to see that my hair has grown back after my first diagnosis - 2006

Long story short; I was scatted on the street in Douala, (Cameroon's economical capital) when I was 16 years old. I started modelling straight away. My first love was Dance though. I started dancing when I was about 7 years old, traveled away from home the first time, just 11 years old. I did ballet and modern dance, and performed with various professional companies. I met my first boyfriend at the must competitive one I think... he was a song writer who was struggling to find a record label to produce him - one evening he was rehearsing with his guitarist - I randomly put a random harmony over his melodies, and was surprised that I was offered to sing a duet with him and one song by myself after a demo was sent to a producer that signed him or should I say ''us''? straight way. It was crazy! I wasn't a singer at all, but next thing I knew, we where on the Cameroon top 10 music chart  I was 17. The stardom was short live - obviously!:)) I went back dancing full time, before deciding to start my own dance company - age 22 -

I was so passionate in exploring a different way of expressing myself through dance, that wasn't modern, ballet or traditional dance. I was making a very good living dancing solo for weddings and high-brow events in Douala. I started teaching my dance style and techniques to dance enthusiasts that I auditioned before hand to join my very small but crazy ambitious dance company. The style was later defined by dance professionals as Afro-contemporary, and I was classify as an innovator in Cameroon dance scene. But my personal achievement was the birth of my beautiful daughter Patricia.

The Zigou-Dam (Force & Courage) dance company plan and dream started 1994 but really took off in 1999 and became very successful in Cameroon, (West Africa) France and England.

After touring in 10 provinces in Cameroon, and France, we where invited in the UK, by the art Council of England in 2000. (sorry no soap story...!:) my team members and I came in the UK with a work permit, and therefore a good Visa. I felt very proud that I've achieved that not only for me, but for my team too. From 2001 - 2005, I was enjoying teaching in schools, colleges and Universities - performing with my dance crew in various venues until...disaster stroked...!!!:( 

The year is 2005. We are in July. I've just noticed a lump in my breast. The GP said that she wouldn't be worried, because it didn't look like anything serious. I thought to myself, I wish I could just speak to my mum, and I became very upset because my mum and best friend had passed away just 2 years prior... I heard the GP say in a calm voice:'' if you're worried, I'm happy to refer you to a breast care specialist...'' I'm glad she did.

I've just been diagnosed!.. The hard reality completely changed my life. I lost my contract as a dance teacher and I was unable to work as a dancer or choreographer and was made homeless overnight. That was the end of my dancing career, but who cares about dance when you need to fight for your life? I soon realized that I also needed to be in control of my treatments - and a new career?

Après la pluie, vient le beau temps! -  French for ''after rain comes good weather!'' (figuratively speaking..:)) I am enjoying the snow !!!


So, after my final diagnosis, with all the details of my conventional treatments plan (surgery, Chemo etc...) at Frenchay hospital, I started looking into complementary treatments (herbal), and self-help techniques (Fitness and involvement in the local community) - Natural beverages Essiac (no longer available) and Aloe Vera to help me get through it all.

I felt I needed to help others in my situation and keep busy. I danced all my live, I know that Dance is immensely rewarding, not only that it help increase body awareness, but it also stares up positive emotions, VITAL element needed for people affected by a serious illness in general, and I believe cancer in particular. Dancing is a great way for a patient to support the body in its natural and continual auto-adjustments, to keep it functioning well and minimize the effect of cancer treatments . 
So, I spoke to Jane Barker my care nurse at the time, only a few days after my first surgery - expressing my desire to bring dance to cancer patients in a hospital setting. She thought it was a brilliant idea, and helped me to make it happen.
I then started putting everything together (Contacting key people, putting paperwork in order so that I can receive my NHS volunteer card, securing a free space for workshops at the hospital, work on a lesson plan with Leeza, put a team together and advertise - the never heared before ''dance workshops for cancer patients'' encouraging them to dance their emotions...
We all need motivation when it comes to exercising, even though we know that it's good for us. It is certainly not something that you look forward to doing, when you go through the trauma of cancer. But these exercises are very important; not only to help with the mobility of the arms, but to help prevent Lymphoedema, which can be a chronic condition.
When I was strong enough, (kind off)... I launched the class. We created an Afro-contemporary dance piece inspired by exercises given to breast cancer patients after the mastectomy surgery. The physiotherapists uses these to help with the mobility of the patient arm or arms. It was fun. What a contrast to the usual boring waiting room, were we are all immersed into our own head.                    
These simple movements were turned into a contemporary dance piece. The choreography was danced in a combination of silence and the accompaniment of percussion using a West African Djembe. The project lasted 3 months. We performed at a fund raiser show that my team and I organised and all proceeds were given to the Frenchay cancer care centre, and I was very pleased to see that my care nurse Jane Barker was in the audience. 
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The whole choreography was light and gentle but dynamic enough to do the job. I invited Leeza Jessie, a long time friend and Yoga/contemporary dance practitioner, to run the class with me. It was Fun and rewarding... We performed the dance piece at a local secondary school and at a community venue to promote the Breast Cancer Awareness month.

The project was called Fighting in Rhythm (page four).

My personal mission was to create a fun piece that the joining members would look forward to every week. I was careful to do only what was in the interest of my fellow cancer patients - and they loved the music, ambiance, dance routine and friendship!

I made sure to reassure them that put aside that I was a professional dancer, I was also accredited by the University of Winchester (Dance Capability) to dance with vulnerable client-groups (elderly, under 5 years old, and disables), it's interesting to realize that I finished my course only 4 months prior to my first cancer diagnosis. The Dance Capability course was lead by Penny Rance, who is a trainer for Sherborne Development MovementSound Beam leads INSET training and specialized mentor for Hampshire Dance/Disability trainees, responsible for ensuring that dance tutors are both sensitive to people's needs while offering real learning and caring experiences through dance.

We were endorsed by a TV presenter Sherrie Eugene. The story was featured on ITV news, and a few times in the Evening Post - now The Bristol Post

 Affaire à suivre!!! - To be continued!!!

  In 2008 I had the privilege to have been asked to model for "Maripose Boutique" photo-shoot in 2006 just 6 months after my chemotherapy treatments. It was great to see life through a window and reflect on how fortunate I felt at that moment in time...I really liked her designing style as well; simple lines and elegant garments made with cotton jersey and wool.


         Reconstruction surgery is a great breakthrough! :))


After my diagnosis, I was advised not to use antiperspirant, because they usually contain harsh aluminium salts and alcohol. Then I find the Aloe EVER-SHIELD deodorant. Its non-irritating and does not stain cloths. The Aloe Vera formula contains no alcohol, no aluminium salts and can be used to soothe after underarm shaving and waxing. I always have one in my bag. I will write a post on a few things that I use every day and will make sure to put the picture as well promise! 

I also use Sonya aloe Vera-based cosmetic lines. Sonya’s unique combination of natural ingredients, from pure aloe Vera and antioxidant vitamins, to marine extracts and chamomile, can help protect, nourish and soothe the skin. My skin as been ever so delicate since my intense treatments 10 years ago and again this year. So I have to be very careful of the cosmetic stuff that I use. 



It's 2007. I am fed up after my 2nd surgery. It is a tissue expander, which indicates that I will be going through further surgeries... It was all really confusing for me to understand what was going on. The first surgery which was to remove the cancer did go well but the reconstruction did not succeed. I was clearly in for a long treatment journey. So I thought: I will not wait for the treatments, I will have the attitude of -"catch me if you can!"... instead. That year, I enrolled on a fashion course at the City of Bristol College, after studying pattern cutting at a local training centre for women the year before while receiving chemo.

My main goal remained the same. Helping other cancer patients.

"There is more happiness in giving, than there is in receiving..." Acts 20:35


                         From Left to right - Sherrie Eugene and Leeza Jessie


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Our attire was sponsored by Marks & Spencer Bristol. Lovely pink T-shirts, Black trousers and beautiful beaded scarves. (I took a few ladies with me and we thought those were perfect) I am so gratefully for M&S support at the time.

Leeza my friend and body conditioner expert showed her support by posing topless... We also had the son of the manager of the community centre hosted the evening, and a professional dancer also performed in support of the show. My beautiful daughter was at the show as well; she just started year 7. My sister who lives in the Netherlands Berny B Ekall was our glamorous photographer.:))  


Performing with these brave ladies was a very special project for me. From left to right: Christine, Becky, Grazynka, Grace, Sue and Sarah - all featured in Evening Post - 2007 Headline: TAKING POSITIVE STEPS by Julie Harding.


Thank you for Reading. 

Till next time...X



Grace EkallComment