Former World of Dance U-Jam instructor Charlene Chao has been a dancer and fitness enthusiast for most of her life. However, when she was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer in 2013, her life was hit with an unexpected road block. WOD Magazine got a chance to speak with Charlene about her love for fitness and how she deals with treatment with the support of her friends and family.
World of Dance: How did you get into dancing and fitness?
Charlene: I have been dancing since I was little – I danced at church and in high school, and in college I was on the dance team at U.C. Riverside. After college, I gained a lot of weight because I wasn’t active, but I decided to lose weight and then I got back into fitness because of that.
World of Dance: How did you get started with World of Dance U-Jam?
Charlene: In 2012, I was a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness and UFC Gym, and a friend of mine taught a lot of group exercise classes. I went with her to get certified as a U-Jam instructor, because we wanted to bring it down to SoCal. I’ve always loved fitness and dance classes, so my friend and I traveled to Northern California together and took the instructor workshop and classes, and got certified together. We were eventually the first two U-Jam instructors in SoCal!
World of Dance: What have been some of the highlights of your World of Dance U-Jam and dance career?
Charlene: I haven’t done much recently because of my treatment, but U-Jam did a breast cancer awareness class when I was diagnosed, and now every year they do something for breast cancer awareness month in October. I participated in the first one, which was my first time to come back and lead the cool down song. I was also on stage at another event two years ago, and I have been featured at other breast cancer events. I think it’s awesome to be featured and interviewed.
World of Dance: What role does fitness play in your life?
Charlene: I train five to six days a week but I am not coaching anymore. My oncologist told me I tolerate treatment so well and a lot of people can’t even tell I have cancer because I have such an active, healthy lifestyle. When I came out of chemotherapy, my strength was nowhere near where it was before I was diagnosed, and it took me a long time to get back to 100 percent again. I was diagnosed again after the cancer metastasized to my brain in 2016, and I have been back on track since then. I currently still undergo treatment every three weeks, even though the cancer is currently dormant. It’s almost like I need fitness now for my sanity.
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Elite Online Training Protocol! – We just released a series of content for our online squad featuring some of the workouts from my training regimen. – It’s our goal to constantly elevate what we do and give to our squad! With that being said, some of the latest content we are releasing on the Self Made Elite online Training platform is a series of new glute and upper body training to show and demonstrate the movements that are part of the actual training I do to continue my growth and development! We will continue to elevate and release new and more diverse content leading up to the release of: – #ProjectXprotocol – Which will be launching in the next several weeks! – Between now and then if you are in need of programming to elevate and take your fitness to the next level you can find the link in my bio or simply DM me or @dean_romero_smtf – #SelfMadeEliteOnline #neversettle #wherechampionsareselfmade
World of Dance: What are some of your go to songs or artists for working out?
Charlene: I’m a big Christian and I listen to worship music when I work out, but mostly just all the time. I have a connection that is uplifting and keeps me in a really good mindset.
World of Dance: How did those around you react to your diagnosis?
Charlene: When my World of Dance U-Jam friends found out I was diagnosed, they held fundraisers and other events for me because they considered me family. They put together a fundraiser in SoCal and one in NorCal, and they learned a routine for the cool-down song dedicated to me, to the song, “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys.
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🥰🙏🏼 #Repost @dean_romero_smtf ・・・ These hospital days happen for us every 3 weeks and serve as such an amazing reminder of just how blessed we are! People always ask where our mindset and appreciation and gratitude for life comes from? For us one thing Charlene has demonstrated and taught me is that while tomorrow may not be promised, and really neither is today bc we don’t know what the day will bring, in the end we have only THIS MOMENT! – Living in the moment provides something I have never experienced before now. It’s something that comes from the appreciation and understanding that no matter what comes next, we will take that on with the love we experience by living for this moment bc in this moment we are happy, healthy, loved and blessed. – Some interesting facts about Stage IV metastatic breast cancer: ▶️People who are living with it will be in treatment for the REST OF THEIR LIVES ▶️Stage 4 can occur 5,10 or 15 years after the original diagnosis ▶️This is the MOST ADVANCED stage of Breast cancer ▶️Stage 4 breast cancer patients live ON AVERAGE 18-24 months following diagnosis (Charlene was diagnosed 5 years ago) ▶️Stage 4 is responsible for 90% of the morbidity and mortality rates yet gets about 5-7% of funding goes towards research for metastatic disease ▶️Stage 4 can be treated but it is considered INCURABLE – Despite any of these facts @charlene521 by the grace of Christ has shown me and everyone around her the truest definition of a survivor and a fighter with the strength and blessings that can only come from God and her dedication to her faith in him for strength and purpose. This is why I refuse to miss scans, treatments or testing when WE have treatment. She is a part of me and for that reason when ppl say that I’m a good man for being by her side through this it doesn’t make sense to me. ANYTHING that happens to her happens to me. I cherish every moment God sees fit to allow me to be by her side – I also can’t thank @selfmadefamilyinc enough for ALWAYS allowing me to have these days with Charlene, he has never even once blinked an eye when I need to be by her side for anything with her heath – #Charsbattleagainstcancer #Stage4breastcancer
World of Dance: How has cancer and treatment changed how you do things?
Charlene: I put fitness on the back burner for a while because chemotherapy wipes you out so much, but when I finished treatment and regained strength and got back into fitness, I couldn’t technically work because I have to undergo treatment every three weeks. I couldn’t pick up instructing again, but I still went to classes.
World of Dance: Do you have any tips to offer for people going through something similar to what you have?
Charlene: Mindset is so important; I found my faith again through my battle with cancer and I’ve remained positive. Stressing makes your body not tolerate things well, and I receive uplifting and support from my fitness family, World of Dance U-Jam family and family and friends, which has helped me a lot.