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Young dancer glides through fight with cancer

Emma Cohen, a 14-year-old freshman at Evanston Township High School, was just 12 years old when she stood in font of the mirror in her dance studio and noticed a large lump underneath the strap of her leotard.

Emma Cohen, a 14-year-old freshman at Evanston Township High School, was just 12 years old when she stood in font of the mirror in her dance studio and noticed a large lump underneath the strap of her leotard.

Emma Cohen, center, in a 2008 Dance Center Evanston recital.

After initially brushing it off as a muscle strain, Emma would soon find out that she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

After being diagnosed with cancer, many might have been too overcome with their diagnosis to continue with regular activity. But Emma, currently in her third year of remission, says she was dancing "before, during, and after," her diagnosis.

Emma is now preparing for her 2010 dance recital for Dance Center Evanston that will premiere in June.

A video interview with Emma.

"Dancing is such a lively, life-affirming art that I believe it helped her remain physically and emotionally strong," said Mary Cohen, Emma’s mother.

Saying dancing saved her life, Emma believes if she hadn’t been a dancer, she would have suffered a more drastic fight with cancer.

Although dance allowed Emma to glide through her cancer journey, she did face her share of obstacles.

“It was hard to know that the toxins doctors were putting into me to make me better, could not only make my cancer more severe but also cause future cancers,” Emma explained.

Emma’s family and friends also had to live with the consequences of her treatment. “It was awful having to drive Emma to her chemotherapy sessions knowing that in the short run, they would make her feel much, much worse,” her mother says.

Ari Miller, a friend of Emma’s, says that, because of the chemo, Emma was “so tired and miserable looking…and she would barely even eat anything…that was completely different from the Emma I knew.”

As if everything else Emma had to undergo due to her treatment was not enough, she also had to endure the loss of all her hair. Still, Emma found a way to leap past this hurtle and she recalls “getting used to it once it was out, [and] making it fun with lots of colorful bandanas.”

With Emma having to overcome baldness and cancer, she still managed to remain an intensely caring person.

“She never wanted her friends or family members to feel too sad, and she always tried to reassure us that everything was going to be all right,” Mary Cohen says.

While Emma was trying to keep her friends and family together, her community worked to support her. Inspired by the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, Emma’s middle school strung origami birds into garlands and decorated her house with 2,070 paper birds.

“They made Emma feel very loved, and we still have them strung around our house for good luck,” Mary Cohen says.

After having danced with cancer, Emma has proved that she is even more of a tough cookie, and in the words of her friend Ari, “Emma practically eats cancer for breakfast.”

Emma did not allow cancer to effect her dreams, and powered through her illness despite heart-wrenching circumstances.

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