Dancing keeps cancer survivor moving ahead

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Line dancing has changed Rowena Bolwell’s life.

It has helped the Oamaru breast cancer survivor to regain her strength and embrace her new body after a mastectomy in 2017.

On Saturday night, at the Whitestone Line Dancers’ 25th birthday celebration, Mrs Bolwell replaced her prosthetic breast with a Steampunk-inspired breast – a sugar bowl, leather harness and green feathers – to go with her Oamaru-themed outfit for the night.

Having “a bit of fun”, embracing her new body and opening up about her journey with cancer had been the best ways to move forward with her life, she said.

Mrs Bolwell discovered she had very early stage breast cancer, called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), after a routine breast screening in late 2016.

She had her right breast removed in 2017 and was able to avoid chemotherapy or radiation because of such early detection.

“It’s been a bit of a tough journey, [but] I was very, very lucky.”

At the time, her BMI was too high for a breast reconstruction, so she has been wearing a prosthetic breast ever since.

She is making a conscious effort to lose weight to qualify for reconstruction surgery and said line dancing had been a great form of exercise without the pressure of going to the gym.

“Everyone is there for the same reason – we love music, we love to dance,” she said.

She had been interested in line dancing for many years and after her brush with breast cancer finally decided to give it a go in March last year.

“I thought I’d be a bit useless, but before you know it you’re actually a lot better than you think,” she said.

“It’s just fun, it’s great – people are really supportive, it’s got me out and meeting new people.

“It’s such a great social atmosphere. Everyone is accepting and supportive and encouraging – it’s like a whole new family.”

She attends classes at least once a week – sometimes as many as three.

Her work as a beauty and massage therapist had also been therapeutic in her recovery.

“Being able to go in [to work], give people massages and make them feel good makes me feel good,” she said.