Cancer + Community: How a Diagnosis Pushed her to Skating

I learned how to skate in High School– if you don’t count taking my older brother’s board, unused in the garage, and used it to sled down the driveway in the summer, dragging my heels into the pavement right before I hit the road. I started skating to school after a dramatic incident while borrowing my step-dad’s car. Unfortunately, the perfect circumstances to not be able to hear or see the cop trying to pull me over. Long story short the cop called back up and ended up ringing my parents doorbell and I immediately lost car privileges.

There was no way I was going to take the bus as a senior so I stole my younger brother’s board that went unused in the garage and started skating to school.

From there, a friend taught me a few things but I missed the age when everyone was learning tricks and I stayed a street skater for years. I wanted to learn tricks but never felt comfortable going to skate parks that were filled with dudes. I was already one of the few females that hung out at the music venues and felt like I caught enough toxic masculinity in that world. I just pictured either being made fun of or someone trying to reenact some sort of Ghost like scene where my hips would be grabbed and steered.

I went to undergrad in Albany, NY to get my BFA. There is a really cool skate culture there and I would walk by the park slowly and watch. I have a great story about my board being stolen and sold in a basketball court apparently Even better, I got it back! One day a random customer that walked into the BBQ joint I worked at came and put his board against the wall and I immediately recognized my long lost hand painted deck, gifted to me by my friend who taught me a few things before we parted ways for college.

The dishwasher and owner of the place came out front to figure out why I was fighting a customer. The dishwasher just walked up to him and grabbed the board for me and handed me my board. My boss talked semantics. It was awesome! However, I was harassed by these dudes every time they saw me walking and not using my board. I didn’t have an in to the community and just stuck to myself. Occasionally I could get a friend to bicycle alongside me cruising. For the most part it was always just me and my board.

Shortly after graduating I moved to Brooklyn to pursue a career in the arts. Within a year of being here I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at age 23. It was shocking but I had known there was something wrong with my body for about 2 years and doctors just weren’t taking me seriously because of my age and gender and complications with gaslighting. **~~~Queue any more eye roles you may have left*~*~

The diagnosis was immediately followed by a plan to action and intensive treatment that would change my body indefinitely. I was not the athlete I always identified as anymore. Though I was making leaps of faith for my art, going to grad school across the country and coming back here to keep going, I was not really happy with my relationship to my body.

Last winter, my boss had a board in the lost-n-found that was sitting there for a while and I finally convinced him to let me take it home. I started playing with the board, watching videos on youtube, going back to cruising on the streets, trying a few tricks on my own. I don’t have any friends that skate though I tried reaching my dog. I would skate to McCarren Park at night and loop around ‘til no one was in the skate park and then I would go in. I couldn’t believe how smooth the cement was. It was scary at first because I was used to the gravely, glass sprinkled, potholed roads. I started pushing and was in awe. It felt amazing to be rolling in a space that was created specifically for skateboarding.

The spatial relationships felt magical and I started playing around. It was amazing but it didn’t feel safe. If I fell and got hurt I was alone at this park in the dark. So I wasn’t feeling safe with no one in the park and wasn’t feeling safe in the park.

I think I posted something about this on instagram; I’m normally spewing some feminist critique or health care critique or posting about my dog and bad hair days. A friend sent me a link to a Quell Skate meet up and I had a great time talking to other people who felt similarly and hadn’t entered the parks but have been skating for a long time. My family and friends became concerned though. I mean, already cycling in the city makes my family nervous but now I was skating around like it was nothing on a regular basis.

It is true that my bone density is messed up and my immune system is barely functioning. On top of that my treatment includes zometa which is a bone strengthening drug but can actually make your bones harder and more easily breakable and if there was to be a break it would most definitely take longer to heal. The cancer is metastatic and has mostly spread from my breasts to my bones through the bloodstream. My treatment makes my bones disintegrate, something all of our bones do with age but mine process a bit faster.

So.. all of this plus skating might not sound smart but I know it is right for me.

2 years ago I become tolerant to the oxycodone that was allowing me to be on treatment and hold a job and do all the things. I became tolerant and then was put on a fentanyl patch. After my first prescription there was an issue getting the next prescription filled, a classic issue with any narcotic. Pharmacies can’t tell you if they have narcotics on site because someone could come and steal the drugs. So, if you need the drug and have a prescription it can be really difficult to get it in a timely fashion; just another gaping hole in our system.

When I couldn’t get the next prescription of fentanyl right away I went through mild withdrawal symptoms. It sucked so badly that I never wanted to go through that again or worse. I made my doctors wean me off the narcotics. So I was on my own with the pain….. Epsom salt baths, tiger balm, weed and ~~~ Skating!~~~~~ There are studies that state that vibrations heal pain. Like groaning with a stomach ache… try it next time.

I felt so free in my body.

I also started thinking about natural dopamine and how much that was helping my pain and my mood and my health and my cancer.

I was moving around the city better and faster.

I was able to do more, see more, engage in a new culture, was getting high-fived by other skaters and connecting with other bad ass bitches.

I was watching the sunset on the regular. This movement and freedom in my life was amazing and actually lead to me advocating to my team of doctors more about making sure I was able to be on treatment and enjoy a better quality of life.

In the meantime I was also starting an online platform for people with chronic illness and disabilities. Something that I needed to quit my secure job to keep pursuing. I wanted there to be a better support and community for women like me who didn’t necessarily relate to pink ribbon culture and also struggling to find a community of younger people facing their mortality the fragility and oddity of their body day-to-day.

Starting a platform and business is terrifying. 

I was really inspired by Riot Grrrl Culture growing up and I wanted my platform to have similar radicalism. Victory Dolphin GRRRLS became the name and I took advantage of the free classes for aspiring entrepreneurs the city offers.

Overcoming fear and focus on the freedom, power and natural adrenaline was something that was coming up repeatedly in my life and directly relates to skating and the community that Quell skates nurtures. It’s what I live for. I was so grateful for that meet up and learning that I was not alone in these experiences as a females and non gender conforming individuals skaters was everything to me.