The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 03, 2021 1:00 am

Samurai with a 16-inch scar

Dance teacher outlasts cancer, now aids others

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

The right side of Chris Spalding's head remains shaved, revealing a 16-inch scar.

During a recent performance, the world champion ballroom dancer highlighted it with rhinestones. It was partly out of solidarity with others facing cancer battles, Spalding said.

“I earned this thing, and I'm going to show it off,” Spalding said. “I'm proud of the fight I fought. I think it's beautiful, and I'm going to make sure that everybody who has to go through this fight knows that they aren't alone and they should show it off, too.”

The 38-year-old's perseverance in more than a yearlong fight against brain cancer has left his doctors, nurses and therapists amazed at his will, attitude and progress.

Before a May 19, 2020, operation to remove a tumor taking up one-quarter of his brain cavity, Spalding was told he may not walk or talk again. But in less than a week, he was teaching his therapist to cha-cha and tango as they walked the hospital halls.

“That was the moment I realized I was going to be all right,” Spalding said. “I just had to fight. Luckily, I'm real stubborn.”

The co-owner of Fort Wayne Ballroom Company with his wife, Kelly, Spalding started a Facebook page, “Dancing Through Life with Chris,” where he shares his journey with family and friends.

He and Fort Wayne friend Kyle Miron, also a cancer survivor, also started another Facebook page, “Cancer Samurais,” where they answer questions and help others with cancer.

Spalding is also raising money by riding his bike 200 miles with the Great Cycle Challenge to fight childhood cancers. In July, he wants to complete an Ironman race. And he asks physical therapists to suggest patients with Parkinson's disease or recovering from physical challenges such as strokes, severe injuries or cancer so he can use his dancing skills to help train them. He said being a dancer helped him and he believes it can help others.

“I have to believe that's why I was kept here,” Spalding said. “I must be meant to serve. I really appreciate what some people have to go through, and that's why I have to spend the rest of my life helping them.”

Spalding and his wife, who are three-time North American and one-time world champions, performed a dance in December for the first time after his surgery for a local fundraiser. Though the couple have retired from competing professionally, they will come back during a national ballroom dance competition, “Winter Solstice Dance Competition,” at Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 4. The event is open to the public, and Spalding has some creative ideas because he's inspired to say something artistically.

“I just have a very different perspective now,” he said.

The Spaldings' dance studio was shut down during the pandemic. A month after the shutdown, Spalding suffered a stroke which led to the tumor's discovery. 

The couple moved the business to The Charles, 3127 Carroll Road, and reopened June 1, 2020, but Spalding wasn't able to resume teaching until December because of the surgery and chemotherapy.

“We used to wake up and look at each other and say, 'Better than the alternative,'” Kelly Spalding said. “It's easy sometimes to slip into griping or being dissatisfied with things. It's not over, but it sure is better than the alternative.”

The couple met in a Chicago studio and moved to Fort Wayne 11 years ago to build roots.

“We joke that on a global scale God was looking at everything going on, and he had to do a reset button,” Kelly Spalding said. “How blessed are Chris and I to get this reset so early in our lives because we have so much life to live with such a clearer perspective and sensitivity to what actually matters in life, and more importantly who matters in life.”

For Chris Spalding, a big question is why did he survive when many others he went through treatment with did not. It has become part of his drive to help others.

“I'm going to spend the rest of my life making sure that I'm worthy of the title 'survivor,'” he said. “There has to be a reason I made it, and I'm going to make sure that I fulfill that reason and that purpose.”

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