“Dancing My Way Back to Life”
After being hit by a drunk driver in 1996, a fused spine sent Jaime Cadegan’s life into an exhausting downward spiral. Sixteen years later, she has begun healing in the most unexpected way.
“Half my back is fused. I was rear-ended by a drunk driver in 1996, which caused a hairline fracture in my spine that was not caught in x-ray. Three years later, I could hardly walk, and the break, then self-fused, was discovered. My spine collapsed in 2010 after 10 years of fusion surgeries (7 total) caused arthritis to “eat my discs,” according to the surgeon. There are no discs left, and I had very little to call a life. I would go for pool therapy every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from about 9 a.m. To 11 a.m.. I would make doctor’s appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I tried to be finished with all activities by noon, because I was exhausted after that, and I never drove my car after 2 p.m. I was lucky to be able to go down to dinner to be with my family, and I went to church at great physical expense to myself on Sunday. This was my whole life.
In April of 2011 My husband and I decided to take ballroom dance lessons to help rejuvenate our relationship. I was skeptical about my ability to participate in the lessons, but I had always loved to dance and missed it terribly after my accident. We started dancing at a local ballroom studio because we drove past it, and just stopped in to begin dancing. I was surprised and pleased that I made it through the half-hour lessons. Right away, I began to notice that I had more stamina. I didn’t give it much thought, but something was definitely different! The studio was not a sustainable expense for us, so I began to look for a new studio. That’s when things got really interesting!
We went to our first ballroom dance lesson at Room to Dance Studio in Riverside, CA. The teacher, Lupita Limon, was incredible, and she made us work very hard. She taught us to Waltz for 58 minutes; gave us a 4-minute break, and taught us Tango for another 58 minutes. Then we had to stretch out and cool down. I was absolutely stunned to make it through the lesson. I told her that it was the most I had moved in ten years. There was absolutely no adverse reaction to the dance. For years, ten to be exact, every time I exerted myself, “overdoing it,” I suffered by having to spend the next two or three days in bed. I woke up Saturday morning after the class feeling energized! I was sore, but not in the kind of pain I get when I have hurt myself!
I started to notice that I was beginning to be able to do some household tasks, something I had not done in years. I also went to the gym much later in the day — between 1 and 3 p.m. — and could still go to dance class or practice at home in the evening. I began to have confidence that I could schedule activities in the afternoon, and that I could run errands with my husband without exhausting myself! Favorite activities like painting (I’m an artist), and shopping, or having lunch with a friend began to work their way back into my schedule. I can even drive in the afternoon now wihout fear of fatigue!
With each new lesson, I have gained more stamina, and now I have been taught how to continue to get strong, and how to help control my pain. We had just attended a beginner’s swing class, and Lupita asked me how I did. I told her that my back hurt, and placed my hand over my fusion when she asked me where. She told me she could help me and would be right back. I was skeptical. She came back and told me that my fusion is heavy, and I need to compensate for it when I dance. She explained how I could envision a rod in the center of my body, and wrap my abdominal muscles around it, creating what she called a “second spine.” The final step was to compress the bottom abdominal muscles inward. Unbelievably, as I tried the visualization, the pain diminished. I was again stunned. I asked her why I had spent thousands of dollars on highly trained doctors and had never been told I had a second spine, and she said, simply, “They are not dancers.”
I am a former dancing school dropout. When I was three years old my mother gave me tap and ballet lessons. When the time came for the recital, and I was presented with the little baby blue tutu with a heart-shaped top and tiny skirt, I put it on excitedly over my tee shirt. When the teacher told me I needed to take off the shirt or I couldn’t dance in the recital, I told her, “Then I won’t dance.” Mom took me to the recital hoping I would change my mind about dancing. When my class took the stage, I turned to the woman behind me and said, “See that class up there? That’s my class. I’m a dancing school dropout!”
Now, I will never drop out of dancing, because it is giving me back my life. I’ve even begun to hope I can return to work part-time, and reduce the use of medication for pain relief. Honestly, for the first time in 10 years I have hope that my life can and will get better. I’ve only been dancing for 2 months, and it’s already substantially improved. What will happen after a year? Two years? I trust it will only get better. It is probably important to say that we take one class a week (though I am considering two) and that we practice every night for 20-30 minutes. I have also continued with my pool therapy.
After all that dance has done for me, all I can say to others who have been injured with spinal injuries is, “Put on your Dancing Shoes,” and I’ll see you at the studio!”