Who I Met Today

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Sue – Healing Through Dance

The Orchid Series

A collection of interviews featuring inspiring women over 75 years young. Curious, engaged, active, interesting. The sort of woman I want to be when I grow up! 

From the time she was a small girl, Sue loved to dance. A few decades ago, she and her husband took ballroom dancing lessons “for something fun to do together.” Little did she know life was about to hand her a heart-wrenching surprise.

“As so many of us are apt to do, I put off going to the doctor,” says Sue.

When she did seek professional advice, her physician immediately ordered a battery of tests and directed her to a surgeon’s office. “It was very fast and very scary,” says Sue.

Schwannoma is a rare type of brain tumor that grows in the nervous system. Sue’s tumor, wedged in the seventh cranial nerve, affected facial movements and expressions. Although benign, the growth still had to be removed.

After two complicated, delicate brain surgeries, Sue lost her hearing, eye and muscle control, and tear production on the left side of her face. Her balance and orientation were off. “My paralysis, on the one side, was so intense I couldn’t keep food in my mouth,” she says.

“Doctors tried to help me look as much like my old self as possible,” says Sue. Over the years, her husband and four children supported her as she endured a series of reconstructive surgeries. And long, grueling recoveries.

And then she returned to dance.

healing through dance

Sue, with dancing partner Andrew

At an upper midwest dance studio, Sue met Andrew. Before arriving in the U.S., Andrew and his sister were the top competitive dance couple in their Central European country. “As a human being and a dancer, Andrew is the best of the best,” says Sue.

Under his tutelage, Sue challenges her body, mind, and spirit. While dancing the tango, samba, and foxtrot, Sue focuses on restoring balance and coordination. “It’s hard work to dance and dance well,” she says.

Nowadays, Sue, almost 78, and Andrew travel to regional dance competitions.  For 6-8 hours a week, she practices, takes lessons, and grows stronger and stronger.

When she and Andrew step out on the competitive dance floor, “we have no idea what song will play.” Sue must know the steps to the various Latin dances and fall into rhythm with Andrew when the music begins.

In the 65+ age group, Sue has several trophies to display. “Dancing keeps me strong,” she says.” I have so much fun, AND I get to wear pretty, sparkly dresses.

So many of us can divide our lives into the before and after. Before children, marriage, relocation. After divorce, death, an affair. Before her life-changing diagnosis, Sue applied her degrees in Nursing and Special Needs to teach special children. After, she tutored kids with mental challenges until she retired not long ago.

“I loved helping and watching the students develop,” says Sue. “It was truly a gift to give them positive feedback. To see them stand on their own and develop confidence.”

“Yes, it’s true. I had a bit of a bump in the road,” says Sue. And she now serves as her husband’s primary caretaker. Although he suffers from mild dementia, Sue refuses to get bitter or angry. “We’re meeting his disease head-on,” she says, “and he’s doing okay.”

“I’ve led a full, wonderful life,” says Sue. And she still has places to go and see, children and grandchildren to enjoy and love. Including another granddaughter who will arrive in the world soon.

Her idea of the perfect day? “A day when I can dance!”

For privacy reasons, last names and locations are omitted

A huge thank you to Andrew for the photos

PS—another inspiring 75+ woman, a picture book expert, and a loving home in Brookshire, TX