Dancer Health

Dancing with Cancer

Lily Bones dancing with breast cancer

By Rebecca Martin of Dance Informa.

The life of a dancer is about as tough as it gets. A lifetime of training, daily physical and emotional punishment, injuries, dieting, disappointment and rejection all for those fleeting moments of pure joy when you are on stage or in the studio and everything comes together – the reward of hearing an audience’s applause or the satisfaction in completing a difficult show or mastering a tricky step. A dance career is short and difficult enough without also having to worry about job security, healthcare and what comes next when your body says its over.

For some dancers who have spent their careers bouncing successfully from one contract to the next, from city to country to continent there is no ongoing health insurance or superannuation. What happens then if you become seriously ill?

For Lily Bones, who has lived and performed in eight different countries and in more than 100 different theatres and venues throughout her career, being diagnosed with cancer has left her not only with compromised health, but a whopping great debt in order to obtain the treatment required to save her life.

Lily found a lump in her breast in 2009 while performing in the UK and was told by five different doctors that the lump was benign. She continued to perform eight shows a week while travelling the world as the lump continued to grow. Not having exposure to proper medical care, the lump remained untreated until Lily returned to Australia in 2011 where she was diagnosed with an invasive ductal carcinoma – cancer.

As a testament to Lily’s strength and tenacity, she was back on stage dancing Sleeping Beauty three months after her double mastectomy surgery. She used dance to escape the horror of her cancer diagnosis and to help her mentally heal from the ordeal. However, in April of this year the cancer returned and now Lily is hoping to raise enough funds for radical treatment in Germany that does not have the severe side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. By choosing the alternative treatment, Lily can avoid potential womb cancer, blood clots, strokes, liver malfunction, and most importantly, she can maintain the strength to dance and one day become a mother.

Lily advises dancers in foreign countries to demand thorough testing by doctors. If you find a lump on your body, request a biopsy. Obtain multiple opinions if necessary. She persisted with doctors for almost two years but her history of good health led the doctors to insist that she did not require a biopsy. She also advises to see a specialist before buying contraceptive pills that can be purchased over the counter in some countries. The high oestrogen levels in many of these pills can increase the risk of cancer. Lily stresses the importance of eating well and looking after your body generally. Being too thin can throw the endocrine system out of whack and slow the healing process from any illness or surgery. She cautions against the mentality of “the show must go on” and says that dancers must listen to the bodies they know so well and if something doesn’t feel right, then they need to investigate.

Lily has launched a crowd funding campaign to raise funds for her treatment and it finishes at the end of November. More information can be found on the fundraising website:

“My next big dream is to be a mum. I have learnt through dance that if you have a dream there is always a way to achieve it,” said Lily Bones.

*Many other dancers are in similar situations. Beloved teacher, choreographer and performer Ian Knowles has recently been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He is collecting funds to assist with his treatment. More information can be found on his Facebook page at

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