18 February, 2024

It can be difficult to regain a sense of self after a breast cancer diagnosis. Even after receiving the long-awaited all-clear call from the doctor, finding your stride can take some time. For Joelle Bantu, the path to reclaiming her body and reducing the chances of breast cancer recurrence came in the form of dance.

By embracing the rhythm, movement and spirituality of her African culture, Joelle has been able to host dance classes that act as safe spaces for those healing from their breast cancer journey.

“I have always danced”

“I was born and raised in a beautiful country in West Africa called Cameroon. If you don’t know anything about Cameroon, our two first loves are dance and football. It’s impossible to escape either of those things when raised in Cameroon. I have always danced, so I couldn’t tell you when I started. It’s like someone asking me how many breaths I take daily. It’s just part of my existence.

“In my country, dancing is used to connect the seen and unseen world, the latter being the realm of our Ancestors. So, dancing is not just a physical experience, it also has a profound spiritual aspect to it. I’ve always viewed this as a spiritual experience, but there’s also something very literal about dancing about accessing healthy living like those who came before us. The benefits of dancing are limitless. It’s great for self-confidence, core strength, flexibility, nurturing dynamic movement, and much more. That’s why it was so devastating when breast cancer almost robbed me of it.

“I remember when it started, I first noticed that I struggled to move my legs, and it became hard to walk. I’d never been sick before, so I was in complete disbelief and denial that anything was seriously wrong with me.

“I couldn’t believe I had breast cancer”

“Eventually, I decided to go to see the doctor. He wasn’t immediately able to find out what was going on. One day, he called me and asked me if I had told him everything that he needed to know, and that’s when it dawned on me. I hadn’t mentioned that I had lumps in my breasts.

“When I told the doctor about the lumps, he said that I’d need to come in as soon as possible so that he could check them. I didn’t think to mention the lumps before because I had them checked many years ago, and the doctor told me they were nothing to worry about. I was told that it was linked to breast density and that many Black women had experienced the same thing.

‘This time, the tests came back positive, and I was told in February 2022 that I had breast cancer. Receiving the diagnosis was like an out-of-body experience. The doctor was telling me that I’d need to go through treatment right away and that I might never be able to have more children. I couldn’t process any of it, I just sat there and cried. I was more in shock than anything else, thinking he is surely talking about someone else. Then it slowly hit me that it is me and then I started crying.

“The treatment and the side effects all took so much out of me.

‘I reject the label of victim’

“It’s been a long road to recovery, but I feel like I have truly reclaimed my body from breast cancer. my breast cancer journey brought me back into my body and reminded me how powerful our bodies are. I’m grateful for all the goodness and blessings I received from that chapter in my life. I reject the label of being a victim. I had cancer, but that doesn’t define me. And that’s something that many people who attend my classes can relate to.

I began hosting traditional African dance classes at a local studio space a few years ago. Recently, it’s evolved into a space where women who have had breast cancer can come to heal from their trauma.

In my sessions, we really let loose and danced to the sounds of drums and our internal rhythm. It’s escapism, it’s a Sacred space of connection and wholesomeness but it’s also an amazing workout. The profile of people who attend the classes ranges from those connected to African culture to those who want to find fun ways to stay healthy. When you have had breast cancer preventing a recurrence feeds into everything that you do. It is a big part of why so many of us come together to dance. We know that being happy and physically active gives us the best chance of achieving this goal.

“Introducing people to my culture and the benefits that can be gained from it is one of my greatest joys. The doctor’s told me that I may never be able to have children again, and now I’m expecting a second child. There was a time that I feared that breast cancer would be the end of this, but it’s just beginning.”

If you were inspired by Joelle’s story and would like to find out more about improving your health through dancing, check out her Instagram page.

Start your breast cancer prevention journey today by taking our prevention quiz.

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