To be HIGH FUNCTIONING and in CHRONIC PAIN…

Last week and this week have been kind of brutal around here. There is so much physical pain that I have to manage every day and it has very much flared up. I’m not in a pain management program and I don’t have heavy duty pain meds.

I don’t often show the physical pain when I’m around people. Some can see it on my face but most don’t.

What is it like to have chronic pain and be high-functioning? It feels like I’m living in two different worlds and it is incredibly stressful. X, Y and Z need to be done and when I push through the pain in order to complete the tasks, I just pedal backwards and feel worse.

It’s like my body wants to give up. It really feels that way. Too weak to shower or legs cramped so bad I cannot walk or pain engulfing my entire body preventing me from getting out of bed. This is my normal. And the emotional toll this takes on me is just too much to bear. This is not a way to live. What do I do? How do I cope? It’s a fast spiral downwards.

I need my mind to be able to focus. I need my legs to give me grace. I need my hands to work how they should. I need my body to get me through a day.

Will this ever end? I’m so tired. My body is failing me and in turn I feel like I’m failing at all I do.

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

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A Sunday Blog Post

Usually when I decide to write in this blog, I have a pre-determined topic or title in place that sparks the words.

I have a couple of topics on hand that I’ll write about eventually, but none of those quite felt right for today.

Today I am:

1. On the road back home to Ohio.

2. On edge as we fly down the highway.

3. Grateful I was able to visit with my brother, sister and extended family in Kokomo.

4. Feeling helpless and scared of the unknown future.

I’m finding different ways to distract myself on this drive. Working on my planner/journal is a great time-sucker and distraction. This past week was pretty good, all things considered. I set some new personal goals and slowly checked some of them off in my planner.

We had two amazing dance dad’s and overall great men volunteer their time and energy to fix some things in the dance studio that a contractor skipped out on. The space is much more functional and just fabulous all-around.

I started charting the things that I struggle with most consistently. Personal care. Household chores.

I still have to have help with showers sometimes. And I struggle with taking off and putting on clothes. With a victory, I give myself a tally. Yesterday I did not know how to put my pants on and needed help from a family member. No tally mark for that. #bummer I also get kind of pissy when that happens… And then it turns into a thing. The whole reliant on everyone else can get real annoying, y’all!

I think it will be a nice way to see the ebbs and flows of my life. Which days are easier, which prove to be more difficult… Finding the patterns. And eventually moving into a routine that caters to my ups and downs.

Household chores are still giving me trouble. Sweeping. Mopping. Dishes. Laundry. Deep clean scrub a dub. And good god the vacuum.

I set a timer via Siri for 15 minutes and get as much cleaning or sprucing done in that time. Then I stop and move on to something else. I’m finding it’s less overwhelming than making a list of what NEEDS to be done. I move at the pace that I can. And I give myself grace for the things that aren’t quite there yet. Well…

But if I’m being straight up… I totally flip out when I find that I cannot or do not know how to do something. #realtalk So maybe the whole giving myself grace thing is a work in progress 😉 I should track that in my planner too #LOL

So why am I on edge on the road trick back home? Highways, semis and speed, OH MY! Seriously, put my butt on a plane ANY day and I can and will travel all. the. time.

Put me in a car on the highway for more than a couple of hours and GOOD LUCK. It takes a lot of pre-planning. A lot of mental preparation. A lot of positive affirmations. A lot of I can. I must. I will. Lol, I don’t even want to write about it while I’m still in the car. So. Moving on…

I got to see my family, y’all. Hallelujah. It’s been a year. Way too long! I used to go every couple of months! A year just cannot fly by again.

It wasn’t rainbows and butterflies. Messing with my routine can really set me back. I had a lot of moments when my words were jumbled, I would get super confused, I would need to separate myself from the family and sit in a dark room with my compression blanket… But I showed up. Holy hell it was difficult.

I got to see my big brother AND my big sis. So so so needed. And so so so lovely.

Let’s talk about #4 real quick… Although it’s probably more suitable for its own blog post.

Why do I feel helpless and scared of the unknown future?

Short answer only today… My days can be hit or miss and I never really know when one will be a hit or if after I wake up it’s going to turn into a hot mess miss.

It’s hard to plan for the future when you live like that. Even the short term goals can end up not happening.

Yup. That’s definitely it’s own blog post. I’m done writing for the day.

Universe, send us a rest stop and a Starbucks. Get me home quickly and safely. Let this beautiful music be the distraction I need.

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

Don’t Talk About Money

Don’t talk about religion, politics, money… Keep it all personal.

As I continue with my recovery I’m finding it harder and harder to NOT talk about things that may be socially taboo or whatevs… But even writing this is proving to be difficult. TMI, Theresa. Don’t talk about that stuff.

Why are we “supposed to” keep the conversations light? Why are we supposed to avoid the bigger topics?

Often, when someone has a traumatic event in their life, people will reach out to inquire about their physical and emotional well-being.

“How are things?”

“You feeling a bit better?”

“We’re thinking of you. How can we help?”

Kind-hearted and thoughtful questions!

I think we’re all taught to keep things polite. Not a lot of people dive in deeper and ask about the nitty gritty.

“How are you doing spiritually? Is your faith broken?”

“Is your insurance picking up what you need?”

“Are there government programs in place to help you?”

“Is your family able to handle the financial blow of this trauma.”

Pretty brash, right?

Through all the stages of grief that accompany a traumatic event, people may welcome or need different questions at different times. But even the questions that are a little more brash… Will you get an honest answer if you ask? Would you be able to answer with a purely honest response? Would you go into autopilot and say something like, “We’re doing okay *smiley face* I promise.”

Is there someone or a family in your life that has had trauma? Emotional or physical. Are they suffering?

I don’t know, guys. I’m kind of sick of keeping it polite and light. I know that I already dig deeper and divulge a lot more than what may be socially acceptable. But there is another level and layer of stuff that has not been laid out on the table.

Because I don’t want to assume how Allen would respond, I’m going to answer the following questions from my point of view. Allen’s may vary.

“How are you doing spiritually? Is your faith broken?”

Before our struggles began, I did not call myself a Christian. I didn’t grow up in a religious family. I was encouraged to connect to faith if I felt guided to and I was able to explore the ideologies of various religions. I found that I believed that there was a power much greater than us and guiding us but I was never at a place where I could define it. I didn’t need a definition to find happiness and peace within my spirituality.

Any faith I may have had is completely gone. After so much heartache it is very difficult to keep believing that there is any sort of spiritual presence. I find it difficult to accept that it would be guiding my family to places of devastation so often. I’m just not in a place where I can accept that God has a plan and a path for us. It’s not a feeling of bitterness. It’s just empty.

Do I still appreciate the prayers you flood our family with? Absolutely. Prayers are full of love and light and beautiful intentions and it warms my heart to know my family is in your thoughts.

“Is your insurance picking up what you need?”

Absolutely not. Our insurance is $1,000/month. It covers very little in the bigger picture. My accident. Allen’s cancer. It’s not enough and it also ends in about a month. We will have to find new insurance through the government and things just aren’t looking good.

“Are there government programs in place to help you?”

Very little. I’m waiting to find out if I’ll be approved for disability. Other than that, we have not been able to apply for any other assistance-type programs.

“Is your family able to handle the financial blow of this trauma.”

No. We’re straight up drowning. The biggest stressor right now is money. Hands down. It’s a sickening helpless feeling. There are times when we cannot afford groceries. There are times when I have to cancel a therapy session because 1. insurance doesn’t cover it and 2. we can’t afford it out of pocket that week. We cannot afford to be sick and in recovery. We have hit financial rock bottom this summer and it is so painful. I’m finding it to be extremely difficult to write this portion of the blog post. As I write, the reality of our situation glows brighter and brighter. To make a list of all of our financial shortcomings in detail would be too painful.

We’re maxed out in medical loans. We’ve shot through our savings.

Allen is working 24/7 for our family. He’s at work more than he is at home. I think I saw him 2 days last week. His work ethic is on point.

But honestly, no matter how much he works, the financial requirements of recovery and treatments are TOO MUCH.

The stress of “can we afford that” is a constant burden on our family. Our marriage is strained because we’re both so worried all of the time.

All of it is sad. All of it.

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

Pure Joy 


“Count it all pure joy.”
But how do I do that? I’ve been beaten down emotionally and physically time and time again. I’m tired. So so so tired. I started to feel myself giving up after the new year. I sunk deeper into a dark and scary depression. 

My psychology, psychiatry and PTSD group therapies increased. It was all good. Super intense but all good. 

I can already feel my thoughts drifting off track… there’s so much I need to get out but I’m not quite sure where to start. I’ve felt a strong desire to write again lately. It’s a form of therapy that my psychologist is 100% on board with. It’s just… Sometimes the words and the thoughts get jumbled. I’ll try. 

September 6, 2016 — Willow Performing Arts Academy was born. We had our first day of dance classes. A little under 100 kids were in and out of the studio that first week. 

Do I really OWN a dance studio? This can’t be real. 

Everything is backwards. It’s all supposed to be different. I’m supposed to be teaching the majority of the classes. I’m supposed to be able to manage and execute everything administrative. 

Willow is not your average dance studio. We operate out of my husband and I’s basement. I don’t drive. I cannot drive. I’m not allowed to drive. A brick and mortar location is next to impossible for me because of all of that. Add on the massive amount of medical debt and it’s a an impossible goal. Maybe we will be able to find a location that caters to what our family needs someday. A house connected to a commercial building. Maybe someday. #mydream

Sprung floor. Check. Barres. Check. Mirrors. Check. Acro equipment. Check. Waiting area. Check. A full teaching staff. Check. Office staff. Check. 

You own a dance studio. You must be doing great! Fine even! Fully recovered! *insert eye roll and a big huge sigh*

Where do I fit in? Can I fit in? Are my deficits too strong. Am I really doing this? Is this really happening?

Self doubt. Constant self doubt. 

I’m in the hospital. I’m home from the hospital. I’m in the hospital. I’m home from the hospital. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. People don’t always understand the complexities of my conditions. Frustration all around. 

But I’m supposed to count it all pure joy. 

I turn on the energy when I need it most. I let the adrenaline get me through each day we are open. I push myself too far. I go too hard. Another setback. Repeat. Repeat. Some people see the pain and struggling. Most see the upbeat super duper excited Miss Theresa. 

My self confidence becomes worse. What is my life? What am I doing? Children now depend on me. Staff members now depend on me. I can’t even depend on myself. I DONT KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. 

It’s now spring and our big end-of-year Showcase is upon us. I’m so proud. Everything looks beautiful. Not bad for a basement. You would never know. I’m happy but it is not pure joy yet. 

My husband was diagnosed with Stage I testicular cancer 3 weeks before our big show. My depression deepens. I put on a smile. Fake it until you make it, Theresa. Snap back to reality. 

Surrounded by negativity. People that don’t believe in the dream you are creating. The vision. The love. The passion. Self doubt is still there. Stronger than ever. Fueled by a toxic environment. Lingering because of my own doubts. 

Our dancers were beautiful. More importantly, they were PURE JOY on stage. I want to be like them. I am on cloud nine. Swollen with pride. Look at what we have done in the 1st season at Willow. 


Can I keep it going? Do enough people believe in this dream anymore? Do I believe in myself? I don’t know if I can give these kids what they deserve. I do my best. 


The show is over. It’s now June. I slip deeper and deeper into the depression. It has consumed me. I get through each day… but barely. I tell myself it wasn’t enough. It will never be enough. Why in the world is someone with a TBI, Major Depressive Disorder, sequencing and sensory disorders, major physical limitations pretending to be the owner of a dance studio. 

And that’s what it felt like. It was all a surreal. 

I’m given advice… “Let it go and focus on your recovery.” “Wait a few years and then try again.”

This IS a part of my recovery. Who am I without dance?! My whole life I have been a dancer. I am not going to give up. I must power through. I’m baffled and blown away that those words would even be handed to me. Do they not know me? Do they not know how important it is to continue having dance and these kids in my life?! If I don’t have dance to push me… to show me my goals… to bring a bright light in my dark world… I don’t think I would have survived if dance wasn’t in my life. I would not be here today if I did not have dance. 

I can. I must. I will. 

I’m NOT going to give up on Willow and our kids just because it is hard. It PUSHES me. It fuels my dedication to my recovery and therapies. 


Through Willow, I can see myself dancing again someday. I can see that girl above that I used to be. I’m not giving that dream up. 

I was reunited with some of my dance kids for the first time in a month yesterday. We spent the day together at a community event promoting Willow and celebrating dance. 

And for the first time in years I actually FELT the pure joy. The real ness was overwhelming but so amazing. 


I felt hope again. Those kids make the world a wonderful place. I cannot give up. I can’t succumb to the naysayers. We are Willow. And it’s PURE JOY. It is NOT “just a basement.”

I may depend on a full staff to keep the studio open and running. I may need more days off to rest and recover than I would prefer. I may need to delegate things I would normally love to do. I may not be able to be the ultimate and optimal dance studio owner… But I am passionate about creating a safe a nurturing environment for these kids. I may not be running the business how I always dreamed. And I may not be perfect.  

Perfect isn’t real. I don’t strive for it. But JOY… I will not stop striving for that. My dance kids deserve it and so do I. 

I can. I must. I will. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

Help. 

It’s extremely difficult to be 29, married, and completely dependent on the help of others. I thought it was difficult with just me needing lots of help, but now that Allen is temporarily out of commission… it’s an even weirder feeling. And we don’t know how long this will last. 

We’re two young adults that should be able to function and do the everyday things that need to be done. Adulting. I want to be able to adult again. My therapist tells me to stop “shoulding” on myself but it’s hard! I look around at the other couples our age and while their lives aren’t  at all perfect, they’re still capable of surviving and thriving on their own. 

It’s hard to accept help. It’s hard to let go and just open our arms. But damn, y’all… we need it. It’s hard to tell my pride to calm down and ask. 

A meal train was started by one of our Willow dance families. It is helping tremendously. Allen’s not able to cook right now and I’m still not allowed to use the stove or oven. A meal may seem like a simple thing to someone, but we are not taking this meal train for granted. There are so many things that need done and need to be focused on — Having a meal, one less thing to worry about, is incredibly helpful. 

Thank you. 

Allen’s mom and his little sister have been here for just over a week to help us out. His mom helps him clean and dress his incision sites, bathe, makes sure I’m getting my medication, is driving me to all of my doctor’s appointments and therapies, is driving Allen to all of his appointments, is doing laundry and helping to keep the house clean and organized. She is amazing. Truly. 

Angel is helping by bringing constant giggles and joy into our home. As soon as she arrived, Allen’s spirits improved ten times over. She’s also attached to me like a little shadow and has been a wonderful playmate. 

Thank you. 

Friends have helped me with errands. The staff at Willow has stepped up and taken on roles they normally wouldn’t be asked to do. There’s a lot of help coming from a lot of people. Our community support system right now is hella strong. We are very lucky. We are very grateful. 

Thank you. 

What happens once Allen’s mom and sister have to go back home to Chicago later this week? What happens when Allen starts chemo? What do we do? 

Allen has a really good attitude about everything right now. He’s in the “it’ll all be good” state of mind. I’m moreso in the “I need to plan for how we’re going to make this work” state of mind. How will we do everything that needs done? How will we get to our appointments? How will we keep the house clean? How will the laundry get done? The dishes? 

I have a short list of things that NEED to get done at the house… And it’s just not going to happen. I don’t see how. Unless we ask. And ask again. And keep asking. 

Then a feeling of guilt and shame passes over me. I don’t want to take advantage of the help that has been offered. I don’t want to have to depend on others to help us take care of things. 

It’s weird. What do we do? What’s the phrase…

“Stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

People continue to ask us what we need help with. Some days I’m so focused on Allen and my own recovery that I can’t even think straight enough to give them an answer. Some days we’re okay.  Some days we need a lot of help. Some days I have a long list and am too timid or prideful to go back and ask for the help. 

I don’t even know where I’m going with this anymore. I’ve reached the verbal vomit portion of the blog. There’s too much going on. Too much to juggle. Too much help is needed. Too much. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

P. S. Who sent us this beautiful Bonsai Tree? Angel and I have been having a wonderful time taking care of it together. Thank you. 

My mom makes sure I’m not skinny

Now, I’m not just writing this because it fits the occasion. But I truly don’t know what Theresa and I would be doing right now without our mothers. Given the unique circumstances we’ve had to put up with these last 5 years, my mother-in-law Susan has been a stable brick shelter for us. Susan gave us strength when we were feeling weak, she’s given us her time when we constantly ran out of it, and she provided us with hope when all we could see was the dark side. Personally, I get so overwhelmed and anxious about all the medical bills we receive on the daily. But Susan is a guiding bolt and a helping hand, she takes it upon herself to file and show me what needs to be done.

When I came home from the hospital 2 weeks ago we were trying to figure out who would be able to take care of me. Susan needs to go back to work, and Theresa is limited with certain things. I was restricted from lifting anything above 10 pounds and even if I wanted to, it hurt my scar too much and it felt like my stomach would burst at any minute. Who did I call to help us? It wasn’t the Ghostbusters. My mom (who lives in Illinois) was planning to come anyway but hearing her say that’d she’d come to take care of us, almost made me ball my eyes out while I was sitting there cradling my “pain pouch.” My mother Sherry cleaned our house, and basically did every chore I couldn’t and more. And as a bonus my little sister came along, the adorable bundle of 5 year old joy was able to put some brightness in our home. My sister loves Theresa. They hang out every day and play games, she learns a ton from her.

But here’s the thing, it wasn’t just our moms who came to take care of us. My aunt was the pre-lude to my mom arriving, she came from Michigan just to cook us dinner and check in on me. Every mom and grandmother from the dance studio that brought us meals so Theresa and I wouldn’t have to worry about food, has been such a blessing. This whole experience has been the definitive example of why we need our moms. They just want us to take care of us, in whatever way they know how. Mostly by food, and that’s pretty much the best thing anyone can do for any other person.

Have a truly happy mother’s day. I have two amazing moms, and I am incredibly lucky and blessed to have them in my life.

Mahal, Mr. Cruz

MomEaster2016

(Picture is from Easter 2016)

Juggling

“Something has to give. There’s too much.”

My therapist has been telling me this for months. I wholeheartedly agree with her. The amount of time and energy that my therapy schedule requires and the attention and time my dance studio requires is too much. But what gives? Neither. Both are equally important in my eyes. 

I talked with my social worker about my concerns with finding a healthy recovery-work life balance. All of my different therapists and doctors were made aware of my concerns. Strategies and coping skills were put in place. Extras were delegated. And I was on the road to recovery again. 

And then we found out Allen has cancer. 

Our world is rocked once more. How do we deal with this? How do we manage? How do we cope? 

Now there are three major things that need juggled and three major things that all need very specific and very intense time and attention. Instantly my list of priorities has gone from:

1. My recovery

2. The dance studio/reintegration into working again

To now:

1. Allen and my family… Full and undivided attention

2. My recovery

3. The dance studio

There’s too much. Those aren’t three things that can be juggled while maintaining health and sanity. 

What gives?

The dance studio. 

As soon as the doctor told my mother and I that Allen has cancer I instantly shifted my priorities. There was no hesitation or question. 

After 5+ hours in surgery, his doctor came out to meet with me. He explained what they found — A softball sized tumor. It’s not what they were expecting. It’s not what the scans had shown. His undescended testicle had turned cancerous. We originally thought he had a hernia. 

Talk about a smack to the face. 

Because of the size of his tumor, his incision site and surgery became much more intense. They also found that they needed to do reconstructive surgery while they were in there. His other testicle was not cancerous but it was not in its proper place… stuck in his abdomen. They had to create a new canal so that it could descend safely. It too will become cancerous one day. We watch it. We wait. We leave it be until that day comes. 

Why?

We want to put off hormone replacements for as long as possible. Now that we know he is high risk, we can better monitor and handle it when it’s time. 

What’s next?

Tuesday. We follow up with Allen’s oncologist to see if the cancer has spread. We talk about a treatment plan. 

Chemo. 

We’ve been told that he will need one or two rounds even if the cancer has not spread. 

Okay. We have already been through hell and back several times. We can go again. We can handle this. 

But something has to give. 

Allen is unable to work now. We don’t know when he will be able to return and it is driving him absolutely crazy. And I get it. I truly do. That helpless feeling. But right now it has to be this way. 

I’ve stepped away from the dance studio minus two Parent & Me classes. Even if I had the time or energy, I don’t know that I could focus enough to give it what it deserves. We have our 1st Annual Spring Showcase coming up in TEN days. 

Ten. 

There are two reasons this show is still happening and the studio is still running. 

1. The incredible faculty. They go above and beyond their job descriptions. They put their heart and soul into the studio and all of our kids. 

2. The dance families. Their patience, their understanding… Their willingness to come forward and ask how they can help. 

For that, I am incredibly grateful. 

Am I worried? Am I anxious about the big show? This is my first year in business and I’m hardly in the picture. 

I have not worried at all. We have good people… We have a good community. The big show will be fabulous. 

Does being gone hurt? Absolutely. I don’t want to downplay those emotions. I fully trust my staff, but I’m still feeling sad about not being “present” so to speak. 

My husband. He’s my world. He’s the most compassionate man I know. He’s the hardest working man I know. And right now he needs me. 


Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

“It’s like I’ve been pregnant for two years”

“Guys, it’s like I’ve been pregnant for 2 years.” I told my band when they came to the hospital last week to visit. This thing has been growing in me for two years and it took the random action of me lifting my bag up to the front seat of my car to feel the pain from it. I’m reviewing everything in my head to try and write something about this situation but my brain feels just like the inside of my abdomen right now: jumbled and messy. My surgeon says that they came into this surgery with a simple plan. Get my right teste out, make the left one come down: 2 hour surgery tops. It turns out the right one had grown like one of Rita Rapulsa.s monsters in just the short time we found out that it could be cancerous. Doc Surgeon (not his real name) had to make the cut bigger to squeeze it out of my body. Along the journey he found a random hernia that he fixed and then he reconstructed the pathway my left teste traveled so it had an easier time going up and down my body.

Guys who have undescended testes have a higher risk for testicular cancer. Joyous for me, both of mine were undescended. Theresa and I found out 3 years ago when we were going through fertility treatments that this was a possibility for me, but we never thought it would come this soon. But I’m grateful though, like any person with a pre-existing condition I googled my way through a mix of emotions and found that I have the cancer that has a 96% survival rate. I mean, anything can happen, but if it had to be cancer, I’m glad it’s something that gives me hope.

I have a weird relationship with the word Cancer. Cancer is my zodiac sign. If you believe in that sort of thing that means I’m creative, intuitive, and sentimental. Oh and dramatic. Apparently people born between June 20th and July 22nd have a flair for the dramatics, which I don’t necessarily disagree with. My drama king attitude is what sparked my desire to be on stage so people can watch me do whatever it is that I do. But cancer is also something that stalks and haunts my family like a picky wolf poltergeist. It chooses it’s prey carefully among my kin and burdens them with this young illness that we humans still have a hard time keeping up with. My grandma was one of the most influential people in my life and when she was hit with cancer, my whole family felt the weight of her loss. She was literally the best person to ever exist and for something like this disease to take her away so young, was devastating. She was only 60, and I know she’d still be here right now telling me how skinny I was and forcing me to eat Filipino food if she hadn’t passed.

So here I am, sore, annoyed and eager as hell to get back to work. I love my job so much. Performing for people, giving them a reason to dance, let loose and feel complete elation is what drives me to push through everything my wife and I have endured. Theresa tells me I’m a workaholic, but working instead of suffering is a much better option in my story. My left hand is gently cradling my wound right now in hopes that I can somehow summon healing powers to seal it in full. But alas, this one, like many cuts, bruises and emotions, heal with time. I have to set aside the stubborn and put writing, books, and Netflix in it’s place. With all that we’ve been through, my wife and I have been blessed with such genuinely kind and generous people. Friends and family who empathize with our constant bad luck and try their best to make sure our spirits are lifted. Thanking you would never be enough. I can only hope that whatever challenges life has to offer for other people, that I can be of whatever service and help to anyone who needs me.

For now, I eat a banana, sleep, and invite people to come over to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Mahal, Mr. Cruz

IMG_0280

Photo Credit by: Danielle Donaldson

“It could always be worse!”

“It could always be worse!”

Words that we receive that are full of good intention. 

But then you look a little closer at our lives and KABLAM something happens to make it worse. 

Right now I just brace myself and hope we’ll catch a break sometime soon. 

This cycle of spiraling into worse and worse situations began before we were married. 

I found out I had a ruptured ovarian cyst. Okay, I can handle that. It’s a hell of a lot of pain, but no biggie. 

“It could always be worse!”

Then I needed surgery. Okay. I got this. 

“It could always be worse!”

We were told I had Stage I Endometriosis and if we wanted kids we should start trying right away. Okay. We were both on the same page about wanting a family so let’s go ahead. 

“It could always be worse!”

One month later – I need another surgery. I’m diagnosed with Stage IV Endometriosis. We’re told if we want kids we need to see a reproductive specialist as soon as possible. 

That’s really when things started to spiral. 

We got married and 3 days later met with our Reproductive Gynocologist. I need another surgery before we can begin infertility treatments. 

“It could always be worse!”

Things start to feel surreal. This is our life now. Okay. We process. We grieve. We find strength. 

Time to start treatments… But let’s check Allen’s sperm count first just as a precaution. Typically takes a couple of days for the lab to get results to  the patients. For us, it took one hour. “There are no sperm.” None. Zero. We’re told that this is extremely unusual. 

Allen begins taking fertility drugs to try to boost sperm count. 

“It could always be worse!”

He gets tested again. Zero. None. 

He’s scheduled for an exploratory surgery to find out what is going on and to extract sperm directly. 

“It could always be worse!”

The surgeon meets with me when the procedure is complete and tells me that there was nothing there to extract. There was nothing there to do a biopsy on. Having a biological child with my husband would be impossible. 

“It could always be worse!”

We start shopping for donor sperm. We find a match we’re very comfortable with. We purchase several vials of sperm. 

“It could always be worse!”

Our first infertility treatment is an IUI. The donor’s sperm counts are extremely low. Our first failed attempt. 

“It could always be worse!”

We try again. Failed. 

“It could always be worse!”

We decide to do IVF/ICSI. It’s a rocky road. I did not produce enough viable eggs to create more than three embryos. Out of the three only two are quality enough to transfer. The two we transfer are less than ideal quality. 

“It could always be worse!”

I find out I have the egg quality equivalent to that of a woman going through menopause. 

“It could always be worse!”

IVF failed. No pregnancy. 

“It could always be worse!”

I get hit by a semi. I suffer many many deficits. Our world is turned upside down. At least I am alive. 

“It could always be worse!”

I’m in and out of the hospital 20 times in two years. I suffer from PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder along with many lingering deficits. 

“It could always be worse!”

I overdose and spend over a week in a psychiatric hospital. I gain lots of new resources and insight but it’s very strenuous. 

“It could always be worse!”

My therapy schedule increases to 5 hours per day. I’m unable to focus on working. All of my energy is spent on therapies and getting better. 

“It could always be worse!”

Allen gets sick. We think it’s a hernia. He might need a simple surgery to repair. 

“It could always be worse!”

More tests are ran. It’s not just a hernia. One of his undescended testicles has grown twice in size. It could be cancer. Or it could be inflamed. They need to do a simple outpatient surgery either way. 

“It could always be worse!”

The surgery takes twice as long as expected. The surgeon comes out to meet with me to let me know the testicle was now a large tumor that was even more substantial than what the tests showed. It has grown to be the size of a softball. He believes it to be malignant. Allen needs to stay overnight due to the extreme nature of the removal and reconstructive aspects of the surgery. 

“It could always be worse!”

Allen ends up staying in the hospital for three days. We’re told he will need chemo. 

“It could always be worse!”

Present day – We are exhausted. We are spread thin. Hope is hard to remember. 

“It could always be worse!” Tell me about it. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

Begin Again… Am I still a dancer?

My life, my story, my timeline, my education, my career… Everything must begin again. 

Being hit by a semi hit the pause button on my life and career. During my recovery I’ve been able to press play again… but there’s a lag. Everything is in slow motion. 

I’ve been writing a lot about my feelings and such but there’s something else that is heavy on my heart and I need to spit it all out onto this keyboard. 

Post-accident I have experienced amnesia as well as short-term memory loss. Amnesia is a wild wild beast, y’all. I woke up in the hospital and my entire “dance world” was gone. 

Poof. 

I had to begin again. I didn’t know what “1st position” or “plié” was, let alone ANY of the content I had been teaching in the 22 dance classes every week. I knew I was a dance teacher and I knew I was a dancer but I had no idea how to access any of the information relating to those two things. I couldn’t remember the names or faces of my students who I always fondly referred to as “my kids,” I couldn’t recall lessons from my own dance teachers from high school and college… My world was rocked. Hard. 

{{ Strangely, I also lost all knowledge of how to cook… I’m still not allowed to use the stove or oven unassisted. #LOL }}

Luckily it did not matter to my students and their families that I couldn’t remember them or what I had been teaching. They came together and showed myself and my family support like none other. Dance families do exist and I had an outstanding one. 

My kids would visit with their parents and talk to me about what they were doing in dance class. I was soaking it all in. Sometimes I would feel a little click sensation in my brain and a memory would appear. These kids were helping me get my dance world back. 

Amnesia is not always like how you see it in the movies. I’ve not just woken up one day and been flooded with all of my dance memories again, “Wow! It’s all back!” Nope. Every single memory I’ve retrieved has been relearned or has been triggered by a familiar situation. 

It’s so frustrating, y’all… Feeling of self worth starts to deteriorate… Who am I now? What is my purpose?

Am I still a dancer?



I don’t know. Am I?

I won a portable ballet barre in a raffle and we set it up in my living room. It’s primary use was to assist with my in-home physical therapy sessions. The older brother of one of my students came over to help my husband put it together. My student started messing around on the Barre. All of a sudden I’m swatting her foot, “Gross. Please pointe your feet.” Her mom recorded just a few seconds of me swatting at her child’s foot and leg and correcting things I deemed to not be aesthetically pleasing. 

Did I know what I was doing? Nope. 

Did I know she was at the barre and something was incorrect? Yep. 

Could I pinpoint it? Nope. 

Then her mom tells me she’s texted that video to some dance parents with the following caption:

“Theresa is now available for private lessons. Please contact her to schedule.”

Uhm. What. I have no idea what I am doing. 

It’s the best thing anyone could have done for me. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone. It was time to learn how to teach. Begin again. 

I had 3 or 4 private lessons I taught weekly-ish (depending on my health) to start. Bless the parents of those kids because I was terrible, y’all. I mean… Real talk. But they trusted me with their kids and I was learning learning learning. 

A few months later I had 20 private lessons I taught weekly-ish. I would study like mad to prepare. I would teach what I had just learned. Looking back, the whole thing was kinda crazy. 

My living room is not large. Between the ballet barre, the TV and the couch… Something had to give. I was learning more so I was teaching more so I needed more room. 

I gave away our couch one day on Facebook. 

I texted Allen at work, “Just a heads up, I gave away our couch on FB and some guy and his girlfriend just picked it up. Love you!” 

He wasn’t phased at all. “Okay cool.”

And so I continued. I took breaks when my health required it, I studied, I began to relearn and I started teaching DANCE. 


These kids deserve more. A living room is not going to cut it. 

I deserve more. 

I’m stuck. 

Being housebound and a slave to my medical debt, I didn’t see any options of a brick and mortar dance studio — A true training facility. 

So we threw all the crap that was being stored in our basement away. We may have single handidly funded our local thrift shop for months with everything that was donated. Dance dads came together and built a sprung dance floor. #amazing Ballet barres were installed. A makeshift waiting room was put together right next to our washer and dryer. 

Willow Performing Arts Academy was born. It was born by the hands of the families that supported my recovery. They believed in me. 

What an honor. Truly. 

I didn’t know I would soon be headed towards a downward spiral. I didn’t know my quest in conquering my amnesia would set me back time and time again. I didn’t know I would bite off more than I could chew. 

“I’m doing the bare minimum. Why am I burned out?”

“I’m letting everyone down.”

“My kids deserve so much more.”

We have 8 wonderful individuals on staff at Willow. Each highly qualified within their own fields. Why 8?! I was setting myself up for success. Realistically, I would not be able to teach very many classes. I soon realized that some of the classes I thought I would be able to teach needed to be delegated to other teachers — I wasn’t ready to be teaching them yet. I hadn’t relearned quite enough and I didn’t have the physical or mental capacity to provide a quality learning environment. My faculty stepped up to the plate and took over. 

But I was still teaching. I began to co-teach. I brought in an assistant. 

It was still too much and I had no clue. 

I’m still in recovery. I still have very real and very scary setbacks with my health. My priority still has to be focused on my million and one different therapies. 

But I did not see it. I was doing the bare minimum for Willow. My bare minimum does not even come close to the true minimum a dance studio owner should be doing. Some days I don’t even feel like I’m a part of my own business… My own dance family. I’m on the outside looking in and I’m just wondering, “When will I be the one dancing and teaching again? When will I be able to give these kids everything they truly need to succeed?”

So I kept going at the rate I was and I crashed. And I crashed again. And then I crashed hard. 

And here I am today. Two and a half years after I was hit by that semi. Eight months after I created Willow. And it’s all I can do to just get through my therapies each day, let alone be the face of a business and a proper role model for X amount of children. 

I’m not present at the studio. When the kids see me they are super surprised. And that breaks my heart. What am I teaching them about reliability and trust? I’m an adult in their lives that washes in and out when I can but to them I’m unreliable. 

Or maybe it’s not perceived as that… Maybe I’m projecting. 

Either way there is a problem. The amount I bit off to chew was significantly less than what I actually wanted to bit off and chew… But even that was too much. 

It’s a major mistake and it has affected the studio negatively. I’ve dropped the ball and I’ve not shown up when I was needed and I am so incredibly sorry. 

I’ve learned from my mistakes. I know what I will do differently this summer and even into next fall when a new dance season starts. Begin again. 



“Will I ever be a true dance teacher again?”

“Will I ever be a dancer?”

“Will I ever be able to provide my students with more than a makeshift basement studio?”

“When will I get my dance world back?”

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. I don’t know if I ever will. But right now I can try to begin again and I can do the best I can in this moment. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz