AFTER talking to Jacqui Drake, I can’t help but feel ashamed for all those times I’ve moaned about the small stuff.
“I am terminally ill - I’m just not getting off at this terminus,” says the Bradford dance teacher and choreographer.
To say that Jacqui is an inspiration would be putting it mildly.
She started dancing aged six and has appeared on stage with many local societies, including Yeadon Amateurs and Bradford Catholic Players. A qualified dance teacher, Jacqui is the principal of Debut Academy in Shipley, tutoring children and adults in ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance, and she directs and choreographs the school’s productions.
A multi award-winning choreographer, well respected in the district’s theatrical circles, Jacqui’s productions include Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Producers at Bradford’s Alhambra theatre, and she’s one of an elite group of choreographers invited to lecture and workshop at the National Operatic and Dramatic Association Annual Conference.
She has worked alongside artists such as Gareth Gates, Take That’s Mark Owen, Rachel Stevens from S Club 7and McFly
In 1991 Jacqui’s busy life changed when she discovered a small mole on her leg and was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. She had an operation to remove it - but more than 17 years later a secondary cancer was detected.
“I was cancer free until 2009, then I found a lump in the same place. I had some tests and was told it had returned, which is virtually unheard of with skin cancer,” says Jacqui, 53, of Apperley Bridge.
“I was referred to St James’s Hospital in Leeds for two operations to remove the lump, which was the size of a golf ball.
"Then they decided to take a bit more out.
“Three operations on my leg meant I could keep doing what I do best - dancing and choreographing.”
The following year, during a routine scan, Jacqui found another lump on her other leg.
“The cancer had travelled in my blood and deposited tumours in my lungs,” she says.
“I was put on tablet-based chemotherapy, which kept things at bay for two years, then the tumour in my right lung escalated and the surgeon said it was so big and aggressive they needed to take it out. It meant they had to remove the whole lung.
“I had it taken out in February, 2015. When I came out of the operation the nurses told me that despite losing my right lung, my left one was working 98per cent. They seemed a bit bemused but were delighted I was doing so well.”
Jacqui attended regular oncology appointments and started another course of chemotherapy later in 2015. Despite the gruelling treatment, she was choreographing a Bradford Catholic Players’ production, Mack and Mabel, but was rushed to hospital when it emerged that the chemo had invaded her bowel. “I got colitis, the worst side effect of chemo,” says Jacqui.
“The care I’ve had in hospital has been tremendous. If things aren’t good, they look at what else can be done. They had to decide whether to take my bowel out or give me a drug. The drug turned out to work.
“Then in January last year I started feeling breathless. My arms were black and blue because I’d taken so much blood. My immune system was low and I was diagnosed with pneumocystis, a rare form of pneumonia. It was life-threatening.”
Jacqui knows her stage four cancer is terminal, but she continues to have treatment and remains upbeat.
“The hardest blow was when they took my lung out. It felt like I’d hit a brick around the head,” she says.
“My doctors tell me I’m good at taking on information and processing it though. They say a positive outlook is as important as the treatment.
“It has made me look at things in a different way,” adds Jacqui.
“I’m very upbeat and positive, I have found a strength, I’m grateful for each day. Nobody is here forever, and life is for living. I try to keep busy, but I listen to my body and to the doctors.”
Jacqui has found solace in dance. “I’ve been dancing most of my life. With one lung, my energy levels aren't what they were, and I need plenty of rest, but I’m lucky to be doing something I love,” she smiles.
"Working in this industry, with music, is uplifting because it's a positive environment.
Despite her ordeal, Jacqui is friendly, fun and chatty, with not a shred of self pity. Not only does she continue to teach dance and choreograph shows, she has launched an appeal - Jacqui’s Million - to raise £1 million for the Bexley Wing at St James’s Hospital’s Institute of Oncology.
“I started with a figure of £250,000 then it went to a million!” she says. “I started fundraising in February last year and the appeal has now reached more than £35,000.
“I’ve had some wonderful support so far, people have been fantastic; jumping out of ‘planes, doing the Great North Run. A ‘carol-o-thon’ at Christmas raised £600.
"I switched on Keighley’s Christmas lights and a young girl was cheering me on, shouting: ‘Respect!’ Her cousin was 17 when she died of cancer.
“This time last year I’d just come out of hospital and had nearly lost my life. Last weekend I held a party to celebrate life - we charged a fiver a ticket and raised over £1,300 in one night.”
Adds Jacqui: “Cancer touches everyone in some way. I want to help the Bexley Wing because it’s where I’m treated, but my fundraising will supply things the NHS doesn’t supply, like TVs for people in isolation.
"It’s about making patients more comfortable in a ‘home from home’ environment while they’re in there.”
Jacqui is organising a cabaret event, Positive Vibes, involving local amateur societies and youngsters from Debut, which will be at Leeds City Varieties on June 3.
“I used to choreograph shows there, it’ll be lovely to be back,” she says.
“I’m so grateful for all the support. If I can get a million people to donate just £1 each I’d reach my goal, and my legacy.”