Dancer puts cancer battle centre stage at Edinburgh Fringe

Emma Jayne Park in It's Not Over Yet, the show about her cancer battle that she never thought she would make
Emma Jayne Park in It's Not Over Yet, the show about her cancer battle that she never thought she would make
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A dancer diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 30 has performed a show at the Edinburgh Fringe about her struggle with cancer.

Emma Jayne Park staged her show It’s Not Over Yet at Dance Base, returning full circle to the Festival stage where she made her debut.

A graduate of Edinburgh’s Centre for Professional Dance Training, Emma’s first performance contract was at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2007. Through her latest performance Emma came to terms with some of the struggles she faced during her cancer battle.

She said: “I always said I would never make a show about having cancer, but I have. Never say never, I suppose.”

Emma was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015, after frequent visits to her GP. But the early symptoms were written off as “something going around”.

She said: “It took many months to convince them something was going on. Oddly, the greatest relief came when a lump under my collar bone grew from the size of a pea to the size of a golf ball in under three months. This lump was the evidence needed to get tests that led to my diagnosis.”

The 33-year-old choreographer, who works under the banner of Edinburgh-based Cultured Mongrel, found treatment gruelling but even after she was given the all-clear following treatment including chemotherapy it was far from over.

She said: “When you are lucky enough to be given the all-clear everyone around you relaxes, but for me in a way the hard part was just beginning.

“Instead of celebrating life I was exhausted and verging on depressed which, thanks to support from the Maggie’s Centre, I realised is not uncommon. When telling someone I felt fine (there are days when you do) they would assume I was putting on a brave face and I would be told I didn’t have to.

“I was suddenly stuck in a world where everyone felt terrible saying anything, but was petrified of silence.”

Emma decided to open the conversation with her show, which also featured in the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival.

“Originally the performance was a sort of stand-up comedy gig as I wanted to diffuse the tension with jokes. I cried more making the performance than I did in the two years since my diagnosis. Mostly I cried through fear of upsetting people. My other fear was a sympathy vote, of being applauded simply because I had beaten cancer. But mostly it just invited people to just sit quietly together because, when I was ill, that was all I really wanted.”