Gym Rat Project: So you received the news that you had DCIS, what were your first emotions?
Olivia Hutcherson: It was a complete shock to me, I remember just sobbing in the office after the radiologist gave me the news. They told me my left breast was 87% covered and that I was going to need a double mastectomy with in a month because the cancer was spreading rapidly throughout my body. During surgery they had found another tumor on the right side, which meant that I would have to do chemo therapy. It pretty much down spiraled out of control from there. I was scared, overwhelmed, I basically was a roller coaster of emotion depending on the day.
GRP: Where there any steps you had to take that completely surprised you?
OH: Oh yea there were a lot of things that came with breast cancer and mainly breast cancer as a young woman that I had no idea about. For example, I ended up having to freeze my eggs, because there was the concern that chemo would kill my fertility. Going through the first surgery, freezing my eggs, losing my hair, a third surgery, the reconstructive surgery, it was like a never ending to do list.
GRP: Through the time you were healing and going through chemo, what helped you stay mentally strong?
OH: My top three things that helped me through the process... I would say my faith and my relationship to god, having my family by my side, and dancing.
GRP: So you kept dancing through the process, was dancing a form of escape, how did it help you fight through reality?
OH: Immediately after surgery I couldn't do much of anything, I had to stay on my back for 3 months. When I started chemo I made a decision, I gave myself a date, a goal, and a show. People thought I was crazy and that I was overdoing it, but I just needed something to look forward to and make me happy. So I started training again, and performing again. It was awful for my training partner because I was throwing up in the middle of rehearsal, and I wasn't always the nicest,hehe.
GRP: What was the hardest part of training during chemo?
OH: I think the hardest part about coming back to the studio was facing myself in the mirror. I think ego is such a big part of being dancer. There's so much pressure on how we look, how much weight, how beautiful we are, and how thin we are. There was a good portion of the time that I couldn't look at myself in the mirror. I kind of felt like a monster, I had no hair,no eyebrows, no eyelashes, I was all swollen from the chemo. I don't feel beautiful on the outside.
GRP: Is facing yourself in the mirror still difficult?
OH: I’m still working on it, it’s a work in progress, it will probably be for the rest of my life, I don't know if you ever achieve it. With every day I do look in the mirror and find something new that's beautiful. I find strength in my scars as corny as that may sound. I find admiration and respect for myself, instead of just liking how my dress looks or what the scale says.
GRP: Do you think that dancing was a more effective medicine than the medications you had to take?
OH:Yes, I think dancing saved my life. I think it has for a long time, but never as true as it was this year. I think so much of recovery is mental and spirit drive. There were days where I physically could not get out of bed. But when I knew that my dancing partner was waiting for me, and that we had a show in a month, it gave me that extra push that I needed. I would leave the studio feeling better than when I walked in.
GRP: Is there anything positive that came out of the nightmare of cancer?
OH: I have stopped worrying so much about what other people think, and remembered the reason I started dancing. I started dancing when I was a little girl because I loved music, and I loved to move. I felt like my life took me away from the root and the core of why I started. Just trying to survive in NYC as an artist, to make it, and being competitive, that it ended becoming something else. In a way cancer brought me back the the purity of why I do what I do. Also my relationship with god, it wasn't always so strong as it is now. When you hit such a broken place you really have two choices, you can go with faith and be positive and put one foot in front of the other, or you can completely allow yourself to break down.
GRP: How would you describe your current self vs your old self?
OH: I feel like there's a part of me that died, but I also feel like a part of me was reborn. I’m like a child right now. I'm relearning everything, everything is new and fresh to me. I’m in an exploring zone right now, if it makes me happy I do it, if it doesn't then I don't. I'm learning to honor,respect, love myself more and have boundaries. I’m learning how to say no to things, because I wasn't that person two years ago. I was a “yes” person because I wanted it so bad, I don’t even know what “it” was, I just wanted to be on top so bad, and be noticed and be recognized. Now I just want to be happy.
GRP: What is happy to you?
OH: I’m my happiest self when I’m creating, and sharing that creativity and love with other people. I love anything that has to do with art, singing, dance, write poetry, and I love sharing it with people. It really is that simple. I think people make it hard, we go out there looking for those physical things.That one lover, golden rings, or just book that one job. You know it's really about learning how to slow down and smell the roses, take a walk with your brother, have a coffee with a friend. Write a song or a poem just because you love doing it and not because you're trying to be on MTV. It's about being honest and truthful. I believe the root of all pain is isolation. The times I’ve been the most in pain is always when I feel alone, not just physically but mentally too.
GRP: Besides being a dancer, you are also a poet. How did your poetry help you and others around you?
OH: I’m a helper and a doer, which is interesting because I have trouble receiving it. But the more I would write my poems, I wrote a lot of poetry when I was going through chemo, and the more I would post, the more feedback that I would get from cancer patients. That helped me, because I felt like...O.K. maybe all this suffering on not for nothing, it’s for something. I think when you turn it around and you try to be a blessing for other people, you end up getting blessed and that it’s own type of help.
GRP: You mentioned that you have trouble receiving help, any advice you can give to someone that is having trouble with asking for help?
OH: I always had a lot of trouble asking for help. The word that comes to mind is Surrendering. When you realize that you can't do it all by yourself, I think that’s when the air goes out of the tires, you exhale and you tell yourself you don’t have to do it alone. If you are fortunate enough to have people in your life to help you, it's beautiful. I think to let down that guard can be scary but it’s also extremely freeing. I find that people respect it. Most people want to do that but they are too afraid to. People give themselves permission to be their true selves when they see someone else doing it.
GRP: What advice do you have for those that are fighting for their health?
OH: Pray, be close to your family, ask for help. My own personal one is to have a creative outlet, but most importantly is to allow yourself to have some fun. I know that sounds crazy, but have fun. I can remember being in the hospital for my third surgery (by that point I was over it), I remember them rolling me back to the room, and I was yelling “ shots on the house for everyone!”. They were looking at me like I was out of my mind. You have to have fun, something to look forward even if it’s just one thing a day, or one thing a week, or one thing a month that gives you joy and makes you laugh...I’ve said this before in other interviews, but when you come that close to death it teaches you how to live. Don’t wait to be happy, don’t wait to take that piano lesson or whatever. You have to enjoy every moment. Every moment is not gonna be easy, but you can find something beautiful. Otherwise you get so consumed with the negative. Before I was diagnosed, I was so burned out and I was running myself into the ground. I didn't see it, everyone around me did. I came from a small poor neighborhood, and I always wanted to make it, whatever that means. With each success I made, I felt like it was gonna happen, so I kept pushing myself more and more and I was losing touch with what was important.
GRP: Now that you have been told you're in the clear, do you feel that people lack understanding that you are still recovering?
OH: Yes! Now that is one year in remission. People point out that my hair is growing back, that they saw me on T.V., they say “You must be doing great, you look great!”, but those are all physical things, the image. When they ask “ How are you doing?”. I think it's a good question, you know the automatic response is to say “Oh, I’m fine”.. But how I’m really doing is that I’m broken, I have anxiety and depression. I have moments where I’m totally fine and I have moments where I’m in such a dark place where I don't know if I will rebound from it. I have to deal with these demons everyday. Mornings are really hard for me because I still get sick in the mornings. Nights are hard because I’m a dreamer, my mind wanders and I think about where would I be if this didn't happen...One thing that I would say to others is to be aware, be in tune with yourself, it’s O.K. to not always be happy, not know, or have your shit together. I’ts O.K! The next question everyone asks me, “So what are you doing now?”. I want to say, I’m fucking healing my life, like what are you doing? Hehehe. I had someone ask me once, they didn't mean any harm, “So you graduated college, and beat cancer, so what are you going to do now, it's been a year and your not sick anymore?”. I had to walk out because I was speechless, it really broke my heart that they didn't understand. They had no idea the journey that this took me on. I’m really learning to say “I’m not O.K. right now, not that I want to sit there forever, but it’s O.K. to sit there right now”. I’m taking it moment by moment. I’m grateful for everyday, but it’s hard. I truly find peace connecting with people that care enough to connect and not asking me “what are you doing?” and only want to hear the good things.