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Nikki Johnson
December 5, 2022

Nikki Johnson on Fighting for Awareness

Demi soloist with the West Australian Ballet

It is easy to believe that if we are in good physical condition: have a good exercise regimen, eat healthily, and so on, our health is in good condition. While that does make sense, health is a bit more complex than that. At least, that is the case with Nikki Johnson when she developed a urinary tract infection (UTI).

It's easy to get caught up in the busyness of ballet that we forget to stop and listen to our bodies. While dancing many hours a day and per week, we don't really know what's happening internally in our bodies, which is why it's essential not to overlook this detail.

For Nikki, despite experiencing extreme pain in her lower abdomen, painful urination, and blood in her urine, she almost canceled her appointment, shrugging it off as soon as she started to see a glimpse of recovery. Fortunately, she stuck with her gut instinct and followed through on her doctor's appointment. Little did she know that that would be when things would unravel for her.

There's a common misconception that dancers are in tip-top condition, and while that may be partly true, unless we get our bodies and bloodwork checked, we can't truly determine our health from the external appearance alone.

Nikki's one appointment led to an ultrasound, then surgery, leading the doctors to discover stage 1 bladder cancer.

Let Nikki's story be a cautionary tale to all of us that no matter how invincible we believe we may be, we have to prioritize our health (not just the physical aspect) and ensure we get check-ups and find the right GP.

In this feature, we break down Nikki's key takeaway from her health journey and what she wants dancers to watch out for moving forward.

You can read Nikki's full cancer journey and recovery here.

#1 Breaking the Stigma

Being a ballet dancer is incredibly physically demanding, and this is why I have always taken really good care of my body. I eat well, drink plenty of water, sleep well, don’t smoke, and don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol. I have learned the hard way that being fit doesn’t always equal health, and just because you’re young and not at risk doesn’t mean you’re invincible.

Photo by Frances Andrijich

#2 Your Body's Limit

My symptoms started as lower abdominal pain and blood in my urine, so I booked to see my GP. With a busy schedule, I considered canceling my appointment when my symptoms started to subside, but luckily, I didn’t, as a urine sample showed I had passed a small piece of bladder tissue.

Photo by Matt Lehmann

#3 Finding the Right General Practitioner (GP) for You

My GP went above and beyond and booked me in for an ultrasound as soon as possible. It revealed a tumor growing in the epithelial lining of my bladder. After surgery to remove the tumor, I was told it was stage 1 bladder cancer. A few weeks later, I started my chemotherapy treatment, administered through a catheter weekly for 6 weeks.

Photo by Frances Andrijich

#4 A Commitment to Your Health

My urologist said it’s a miracle I even showed symptoms because some people with bladder cancer never show symptoms, or when they do, it’s often too late. I am now two years cancer free and feeling great. I can’t stress enough the importance of listening to your body and discussing things with your doctor, no matter how uncomfortable, awkward, or even silly they may seem. Don’t ignore your body, it’s the only one you’ve got.

Photo by Frances Andrijich

Top Image: Courtesy of the West Australian Ballet

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