Passion shines on the dance field: Madeline Deskin suit up with the Strutters following cancer battle

Strutter madeline deskin
Madeline Deskin, a sophomore fashion merchandising major, transferred to Texas State and found a place on the Strutters.

Passion shines on the dance field

by Anastasia Cisneros-Lunsford

Madeline Deskin suits up with the Strutters following cancer battle

Although her personal journey to Texas State University was unconventional and arduous at times, Madeline Deskin followed her passion for dance straight to the Texas State Strutters.

In middle school, Deskin played softball one year, ran track, and played alto saxophone. She fell into dance her sophomore year of high school by default. While looking for a fine arts credit and knowing she could not draw, paint, or do anything artistic, she decided to sign up for dance class. "I used to dance around as a little girl and do cartwheels," Deskin recalls. "I was very excited to try it, and I liked it. I tried out for the Bastrop Honeybears, the drill team, and was on it for two years. I have never been able to stop moving."But she did stop — for nearly two years.

During her first semester at Kilgore College, then 18-year-old Deskin began to feel ill. She noticed her lymph nodes were swollen. With five rounds of antibiotics, the swelling did not subside.

In April 2016, Deskin was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer. She experienced many delays before treatment could begin, causing it to progress to stage 4. "I grew up a lot during this experience," Deskin says. "I went to 50-plus doctor visits just to figure out what was wrong with me. I had to do things for myself. I had to be my own advocate."

Her father, William Deskin, was living in New Jersey at the time, and her mother, Keri Garrison, was in Bastrop, five hours away.

As her health declined, she had to quit school and focus on healing. She started six months of chemotherapy on Aug. 1, 2016. Deskin remembers the doctors stressing the urgency to begin treatments immediately, otherwise she might not make it to Christmas.

By this time, William Deskin had relocated to Houston — arriving ahead of schedule to help care for his daughter. "My father was definitely my rock through it all," Deskin says. Midway through her treatments, doctors declared her cancer-free.

Deskin suffered some side effects from chemotherapy. The port that was placed in her upper chest damaged some nerves. She also experienced lung damage from one of the drugs. "I would sleep 18 hours a day during treatment, and it still didn’t feel like enough."

She says the healing period after chemo was challenging. "I just beat cancer, and I was just sitting there, waiting for something to happen."

Deskin says she looked to the Strutters for her next transition, not only to challenge and distract herself but to get to San Marcos as soon as possible. "I spent so much time alone reflecting during chemo," she says. "I was desperate to make connections and friends. Even though I knew that (becoming a Strutter) meant working especially hard, it was well worth it."

Although she did not have any formal dance lessons, Deskin practiced by watching YouTube videos. In 2017, she successfully auditioned for the Strutters.

At Texas State, she has felt some fatigue because of the damage to her lungs. During her first week, she found herself having to take breaks while walking through campus to class and tackling the hills.

Now a sophomore fashion merchandising major, Deskin is grateful to Tammy Fife, Texas State Strutters director, for giving her an opportunity to be a Strutter. "I owe a giant thank you to Mrs. Fife for giving me the opportunity to be here," Deskin says. "She has been so kind and understanding toward me. I’m very honored to be a part of the Texas State Strutters, and even more, to have a heart-of-gold director."

Fife is impressed with Deskin’s determination to succeed. "Madeline is extremely hard working and talented," she says. "I have been inspired by her story and her ‘don’t-feel-sorry-for-me-attitude.’ She told me that her experience has made her a better person. She is a beautiful Strutter and role model, not only for Strutters and cancer survivors, but for everyone."

Deskin missed only two performances with the Strutters in fall 2017, but feels blessed to be on the field and to be given a second chance. "Being around a lot of girls who just love to dance, who just want to show everybody what they can do is beautiful because not a lot of people get to feel that way," she says. ✪