Creating Purpose Through Community

[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.

Often times, creating a sense of purpose from a difficult and challenging time is the drive that someone needs to keep pushing through.  Cookie Joe founded Cookie Joe’s Dancin’ School 45 years ago and works daily to inspire her dancers, their families and the community that she has built.  

Despite battling stage 2 breast cancer, Cookie Joe has called on her community for support and they have rallied around her. She knows that 1 in 8 of her dancers are going to experience breast cancer and understands how important it is for the kids to see her persevere in the face of difficult odds.  Here to share her story and how she using her role to create purpose through community is Cookie Joe. Welcome to the show!

Thank you for having me. Well, I am really excited to talk to you. You’ve got such a great persona already, but let’s, let’s start off. Tell us a little bit about yourself in your breast

[00:01:09] Cookie Joe Arthur: cancer journey. The first thing about me is that I am a dancer and mini show business my whole life.

And so I have, um, and I have a school, like you said, was for 45 years. Cause I wanted to be one of those people that continue. The vision of training kids to dance and be in show business, but doing it with a balance and build their confidence and not tear them down. And so there was a big decision on my part to be a special kind of school where it was, the kids could go into professional careers, but at the same time, they weren’t going to be crazy and need therapy.

Hopefully we’re not because of me anyway. Um, so, um, Um, I’m 70 years old, very close to 70 years old. And I was, I stood double hip replacement eight years ago and I was back on top. I was doing cartwheels triple pier, wets, and show performing. And it was in teaching every day. You know, we teach six days a week, seven hours a day, and I was bench pressing my body weight, just absolutely on top of the world.

And I. Tell me, my husband, you know, we’re counting our blessings and realize that with every mountain there’s a valley. And to be prepared that, you know, we can, we gotta be prepared that the Valley’s coming. And within two weeks, um, found out I had breast cancer and I found my own lump. And that’s the thing about being proactive.

I’d never missed a mammogram. I was very, I’m very health oriented. I eat clean. I work out, I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. Um, I could not be a better specimen of, you know, being shaped and taking care of myself. And, uh, yet, you know, I found a lump and in course, typical cookie, this is, must be a pulled muscle.

My pictorials are so far, you know, so, well, this was over a couple of weeks. Took me for me to actually get at going into the next. Uh, we are in the Houston area, which of course is MD Anderson, which is where most people in the world want to come if you have cancer. So the things I heard, if you’re going to have cancer, have breast cancer, if you’re a woman and if you’re going to live somewhere to do it near Indian person, but I knew I was going to make it purposeful.

I knew I wasn’t going to surrender to despair. So my mantra has been choose joy every day. Choose joy, no matter what you can choose. And it’s been difficult because not everyday sunny, I don’t want to give the false impression that because it’s just like, uh, we, you know, and of course with a lot of sharing with other people, who’ve gone through it, the stages of grief, you know, the stages of acceptance and denial and guilt and anger and everything because it comes in waves.

But one thing I have been able to do is I’ve been able to show up at my school, smiling and, you know, hugging. Being part, but, you know, I got my diagnosis during the worst of the COVID. So I heard my diagnosis. I went to all my appointments alone because no one was allowed to go, which I think is a terrible thing to have to do, but it is what it is.

And we all suffered in some way during this time and still do so I’m, you know, I, one thing I’ve learned is I’m not unique. Like you said, one in eight, women are going through this and I’ve had women who have been survivors for 20 years, 30 years. You know, and so I’m, I’m very aware that I’m I’m special, but I’m not unique.

But, um, so I go to school, I show up at the dance school. Uh, one thing about me, I’m very faith-driven and it’s very important to me that the children are. Verbalizing that they’re praying for me every day. And then they see me every day, smiling and healthy that they see prayers are answered. That’s important to me.

So, um, but one of the things that I did because I have a very large school and I’m very involved in the community and of course, with COVID you couldn’t do a lot of stuff. Is that I decided MD Anderson was having a blood shortage. So we did a wonder. And I told them, I said, I will bring a hundred people to give blood and they laughed.

And they said, there’s no way we can’t even get 12 to show up. Sometimes we had over a hundred people show up to give blood at my school over a two day. And some of the kids who came were my former students who had never given blood before I’m going to cry because it was for their Ms. Cookie. They did it.

Um, uh, we didn’t have a hundred donors because know people were very careful about whose blood they take, but a hundred over a hundred people showed up to support me and give the blood. So I thought that was very special. So, um, that was one of the things we did. I’ve been very, um, High-profile in, in being a, kind of a poster child for breast cancer to give women, uh, encouragement, to not just depend on the mammogram and did a lot of self-care and self-awareness, and also I’m part of the sisterhood, because when you see people with the same hairdo, you immediately gravitate to them and go over and say, how’s it going?

You know, what stage are you in? And that sort of thing. So it’s been. Uh, thing. Uh, one of the things that I found is that I’m, I found that my blessings and my tears, the blessing list is longer than, than the, than anguish. And I think that that’s very important that, um, I’m very blessed that I have a positive attitude and, um, I will be having my mastectomy on Monday.

And so I am right around the corner from having my body is my, you know, is the tool of my trade. I mean, I have stood in front of a mirror since I started dancing when I was 22 months old. And of course, having your body symmetrical and strong and healthy and using it to make your living. And to express yourself and to use it for worship.

I mean, my body is my vehicle and I’m having to say goodbye to part of it. And it’s been a very, very emotional and the waves of acceptance. And then all of a sudden I was, and I use the analogy that I’m standing on a train track, and I am waiting for this locomotion just to knock me down because it’s coming right at me and I can’t get off the track because it’s, I’m waiting for it.

And then I remembered that somebody said, Run towards your greatest fear and you take its power away, running away from it gives it power, but even towards your greatest fear. So I decided that I’m going to dance straight toward that train and I’m going right toward it and, and race it and just say, you know, do it, do your best.

[00:07:14] Adam Walker: I love that you’re going to get, you’re going to dance or the train that seems incredibly fitting. So. So what you mentioned, rallying your community together, you know, bringing them together for a blood drive. What does it meant to you to have that support the support of your community and their families just rallying around you?

[00:07:33] Cookie Joe Arthur: Well, one of the things that I am, um, basically the only time. Uh, I’m S I guess, and I’m 70. My father’s had already passed away. My mother has dementia, so basically, and I have no children. I have no birth children. So basically I’m going through this without any blood relationship. And so to have the family that has chosen me and that I’ve chosen.

Supportive as any, you know, blood relation could be is powerful. Um, the one thing I believe too, is that everything we do is a dress rehearsal for the next time. So now my kids are going to understand what it’s like. Support someone that you need, uh, their parents are of course are just incredible.

There’s a volunteer group of women at my school about four women who, because of COVID we lost our business manager. So they’ve been doing by volunteering daily to come to the school and, you know, just the regular administrative, you know, and of course with COVID notes, uh, parents can come in. So they’ve got to walk the children to the class.

So basically they have volunteered their time. As soon as the chemotherapy started, which is, you know, every week they added driving meta chemotherapy to their list of job description. And it’s a 45 minute drive. So, and, and the infusions are five to eight hours and they would stay with me the whole time and wouldn’t leave me.

Cause I kept saying, drop me off. I can be, they wouldn’t leave me. So that’s the kind of community support I have. So that’s the blessings that comes from, you know, We just became, uh, we, we are, we just are a family. We take care of each other, you know, I’ve been there when their children have been ill when they’ve been ill.

And so it’s just part of it. And, um, I’m just thrilled that there is that. Uh, the other day I got to ring my bell, but of course it’s private and you know, there’s no one there. When I went to my school later that week, over 200 people showed up to see me for my, you know, celebrate my final chemo. And I had moved Chinese descent instead of having a bill and it’s a giant Chinese gong and it was very loud and we got to try and hit the Chinese gong to, um, celebrate my infant.

[00:09:44] Adam Walker: I love that I love so amazing. And the support that you have around you just sounds really amazing. So, so thinking about, you know, the girls in your dance school, uh, what do you want all the girls in your dance school to see and learn from watching you navigate this illness?

[00:10:02] Cookie Joe Arthur: I think number one, to take the word cancer and don’t equate it to a death sentence or to a life ending, whether it be death or just the end of your life, as you know, um, because.

But, like I said, we’re a special, but we’re not unique. It’s just, it’s rampant. I also, in my personal opinion, from what I’ve seen, just in the number of women that have reached out to me, I do, I truly believe that there’s going to be more than it’s going to be more than one in eight kids, female that are gonna have this.

Um, my school is 90% female students and of course their mothers and I, even though I’m not teaching. I’m sitting in the lobby and the mothers that are allowed to Manor the other, the two and three year old children, I’m in their young mothers and I’m letting them know it’s very important that they know that mammograms are not the beyond and all that.

You have to continue to be aware of your body and conscious of your body and take care of your. And, um, but also one thing I did mention is that in prayer works and support and faith, we are not in this alone. There’s God has a plan and we are not, we’re not driving the bus. We’re just on passenger. And our job is to deal with the, you know, what the journey brings.

And I will tell you it’s not always easy. And I think that’s the part two is B, B, B, where you are today. And there are days that I’m weight gain up and I’m just. Why me as hard. I never did anything. You know, I’ve been so disciplined my whole life to take care of myself and to be the best at what I do.

And then to have something like this, stop me in my tracks. And then I gotta remember, well, I’m not stopped. I’m just on a different path. You know, I’m moving forward and, you know, I’m, I’m traveling the journey, you know, with great medical care, great. Um, you know, family and community support. It’s just not the path I chose, which is our reminders that we’re not charged.

[00:11:58] Adam Walker: Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. And so I noticed this, there’s kind of a pervasiveness in your answers where you’re very positive and upbeat and dancing toward the train. And so I’m curious how have the physical effects been for you and how, how are you remaining positive? You know, despite not being able to fully do what you love.

[00:12:20] Cookie Joe Arthur: I think, you know, there’s a thing in counseling called reframing your position, you know, redefining where you are. One thing I’ve always said, and I said it from day one is number one is I have never suffered. I am highly inconvenienced and uncomfortable, but compared to what I’ve heard from other, uh, you know, cancer patients, I had not suffered, you know, chemotherapy was tough and I was nauseous and I sleep a lot and having to walk across for about three weeks, I’d use a cane.

Well, you know, as a dancer, you know, that’s embarrassing. And, and of course, as a dancer, you know, I feel like I’m a 30 year old trapped in a suit with a seven year old birth certificate. But, um, I, uh, you know, just the idea that everything has just changed for me, but I think the attitude. You choosing joy, but because you have a choice, there’s a thing about it.

Okay. If I walk up to you and I trip and I pour water on you, you can either go, oh, don’t worry about it. Where you go, you’re a jerk. You’re an idiot. Why’d you pour water on it. But the one thing that remains true is your wet. I can be sad, depressed, angry. I can be positive, but no matter what. So you just have to decide which way you’re going to handle it.

Um, I’m very fortunate that my bubble, where my tribe is very positive. So when I’m feeling fault, you know, I’m faltering, then somebody, you know, is there to remind me that we’re positive.

[00:13:50] Adam Walker: Wow. That’s such a great perspective and such a great attitude. I really, I really appreciate you sharing that with us.

So last question. Do you have any final advice that you’d like to share with our little.

[00:14:02] Cookie Joe Arthur: I think the most important thing is to be kind to yourself and give yourself grace and not have an expectation. One thing about it is I cannot tell you don’t get a dollar for by that said, you’re my hero. You’re an inspiration.

You’re so great. Brave is if you stand in front of a moving truck to protect somebody except being cancer and doing what you have to do. You know, in my, how I feel about myself, I don’t feel that I’m being brave. And I don’t feel that I, I choose to be an inspiration only because I’m a teacher and that’s just the mentality of a teacher.

But as far as how I’ve handled this, that it’s an inspiration. Other people, you just handle it. But I also realized that I’m very hard on myself. Um, I’m not as lean as I used to be. You know, I’m, I’m very fortunate. I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but I also did gain weight. Was it answer? We don’t like to gain weight.

Right. So that’s, uh, you know, but with no exercise and things don’t taste, right. So you’re constantly trying to eat things or you just sleeping a lot. So your body just. And you just get frustrated at that because we often say we’re very dancers are very critical, critical of themselves just to give yourself grace except where you are today.

And if you don’t feel particularly heroic, cause there’s an X, you put very high expectations on yourself. When someone tells you you’re my inspiration, you’re always so positive. I look up to you. You’re my hero. You feel like you have responsibility to maintain a level of. You know, string and sometimes it’s just not there.

And so I think it’s important that we be honest with ourselves and that we are true to ourselves and not have an unauthentic approach to it. I think that being real and being accepting, because one thing about me and I can’t speak for everyone, but that my dark days last about 15 minutes. They’re not particularly dark days.

The other thing that I love love love about this is the. The connection, the ability, I mean, you know, you go to MD Anderson and first thing I say is we have the same hairdo and before we move on from there, because that’s a good way to get, because there’s a tremendous amount of, um, I don’t think glue, but just introspective.

People sitting in their own world and not connecting. And so I connect, you know, it’s like, I want to be the favorite and the, the popular girl at school. So I make sure that people, you know, I, that I make them comfortable, you know, and the best way is that, is that, you know, I go, well, how are you doing with your treatment?

And of course, you know, then I start talking and then you share and you find out, you know, everybody has a different journey, but we’re all kind of in this state.

[00:16:41] Adam Walker: Wow. I love that. I love that. Well, uh, cookie Joe has been in such a, such a pleasure to get to speak to you and just hear your perspective. And I, I think I can safely say for myself and for our listeners, that we really appreciate what you’ve shared with us.

Um, and we really value your authentic. Uh, and you’re just kindness and sharing your life with us today. So thank you for joining us on the show. Thank

[00:17:02] Cookie Joe Arthur: you for having me. It was an honor.

[00:17:07] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit For more on breast cancer, visit Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog,