Dancer inspires students with her optimism after breast cancer diagnosis

Originally Published: 26 DEC 21 11:51 ET

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    NEW JERSEY (WCBS) -- A bright, young dancer is fighting her way back to health after a devastating cancer diagnosis.

Now, she’s inspiring young students with her optimism and talent, CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported.

“It is one low followed by another high, and I’m just grateful to be here, honestly,” Olivia Hutcherson said.

After years dancing alongside the hottest celebrities, Hutcherson now works with little stars.

“The day I shaved my head, they kissed my head. Yeah, they’re medicine,” said Hutcherson.

They are the brightest part of her day. A dark diagnosis six years ago on her 26th birthday could’ve shattered her spirit.

“The first time I ever heard Stage Four, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I just remember feeling like, God, I don’t want to die,” Hutcherson said.

Hutcherson, 32, vowed she would survive. But breast cancer sidelined her promising professional dancing career.

“I just remember laying in bed, thinking if I’m not my hair and I’m not my body and I’m not my title, because I couldn’t dance, I remember thinking, ‘What am I?'” said Hutcherson.

Finding out wasn’t easy for the Ridgefield, New Jersey-native. It took a lot of soul searching to smile again.

We went with Hutcherson to her 25th chemotherapy treatment at the John Theuer Cancer Center in Hackensack.

“I realized there was a spirit inside of me and it was a time where I got to pause and I got to nurture that side of myself and I had never done that before in my life,” Hutcherson said.

“Olivia has Stage Four breast cancer, but she lives. She follows her religious life. She follows her professional life and nothing’s gonna stop her from enjoying her life, nothing,” said Dr. Stan Waintraub, chief of hematology at John Theurer Cancer Center.

“What are the things you used to want that don’t seem so important anymore?” Layton asked Hutcherson.

“I used to want to dance for celebrities and I used to want to go on tour around the world,” she said.

Now, Hutcherson is dedicated to beating the disease and finding joy in teaching children to dance. A holiday recital presented a special moment of hope.

“Oh my God, I love working at this studio. The kids are just incredible. They are the greatest source of medicine and joy,” said Hutcherson.

She has been an inspiration to her students, for her talent – of course – but more for the way she taught them to persevere through life’s challenges.

Gabriela Rodriguez is one of Hutcherson’s oldest students.

“I am constantly just in awe of her,” Rodriguez said. “I cannot believe that not only she has that much physical strength, but that she has that much internal strength.”

One of Hutcherson’s youngest students is 9-year-old Camila Izaguirre, who opened the show and is also battling cancer.

“I have short hair too and we’re both the same,” Camila said. “We were both beautiful like flowers.”

In a life that Hutcherson learned is so fragile, these are her biggest fans. The stage might be a little smaller now, but Hutcherson knows it’s exactly where she’s meant to be.

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