Dancing after breast cancer: 'I feel like a woman again'

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Media captionThe dance class has helped boost women's self-esteem after cancer

After her mastectomy four years ago, ex-nurse Gail Stewart "didn't feel like herself" until she began dancing.

She is among a group of Welsh women who have had a hysterectomy or mastectomy, and dance together to boost self-esteem after cancer.

"I feel sexual, feminine and like a woman again," said Ms Stewart.

The dance style they use is biodanza, which aims to help people re-connect with their community and improve self-confidence.

Ms Stewart, who has recovered from breast cancer, started teaching the biodanza dance classes in Swansea and Penarth in January 2019.

She said she wanted to "combine the positivity of biodanza and the journey of breast cancer" to help women who have experienced a similar condition to her own.

Image caption Biodanza is a dance genre which aims to help boost people's self-awareness

"After my mastectomy, I didn't know who I was anymore. I didn't feel sexual and thought 'no-one is going to look at me again'.

"But look at me now, I'm full of life. It has helped me become the person I am now," she said.

Gentle movement also helps with lymphodema, swelling of the arms and legs - a common issue women who have had breast cancer experience, according to Ms Stewart.

One of the women to join the class, Rhian Stewart, from Penarth, said the class has helped her cope when she has had hard things going on in her life.

"I find it builds up confidence and gives me a freedom and support," she said.

The classes are not priced, but accept donations for the hire of a venue for a session.

Ms Stewart said her next step is to design classes for men and women who are recovering from a range of cancer types and take it throughout Wales.

Breast Cancer Care said a recent survey of more than 1,500 women found 56% exercised less following diagnosis and treatment.

Jane Murphy, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said: "We hear from women with breast cancer every day who tell us the end of treatment is the hardest part.

"Damaged body image, anxieties about the cancer returning and debilitating long-term side effects often take a huge physical and emotional toll, so getting back into everyday activities, like exercise, can be incredibly challenging.

"However, we know exercise... can help with side effects, like fatigue, boost mental health, and some studies suggest that it may reduce risk of the cancer coming back."

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