Burlesque, beauty and Betty: the three things that keep me going

Lorrainne Castellano explains how her love of burlesque dancing has helped her through life with a rare terminal illness.

Lorrainne may be living with terminal cancer, but she isn’t going to let that stop her from doing what she loves: burlesque dancing. In fact, the 56-year-old from Penarth in Wales, who is still performing as part of the Cardiff Cabaret Club, says being on stage is therapeutic – a time when she doesn’t think about her illness at all.

“I don’t know if it’s the chemical reaction, the adrenaline – if I could bottle that I don’t think I’d need the chemotherapy,” says Lorrainne. “It takes it all away.”

“You have to find something you can lose yourself in, where you can get some peace or escapism”. 

My little angel

Lorrainne with Betty and another canine  companion

Lorrainne had been generally well until one night in late December 2012, when her stomach felt unusual as she was getting dressed to go on stage. She also began getting pain while training. In 2013 she visited her doctor and a few weeks later was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

Lorrainne acknowledges that it’s been a difficult time, but retains a characteristically positive outlook. She lists a few things that have kept her going: burlesque, beauty and a furry canine called Betty.

“I don’t think I’d have been happy being alone in the house without Betty. She’s absolutely incredible,” says Lorrainne. “I re-homed her from my dear friend Amy, a girl I met in Penarth. She and I are made for each other. She’s my little angel, and she came at just the right time. We go out walking every single day and she’s with me all the time. I am sure she would come on stage with us if we let her.”

Lorrainne has always been interested in health and fitness. She owned her own beauty clinic and has managed spas in the Caribbean. It gave her knowledge that helped her deal with some of the side-effects of treatment. “I was blessed in the respect that I knew what to do – how to put on wigs, and how to put on make-up. I even had my eyebrows tattooed in before treatment began,” she says.

“That helped me to keep my confidence during all the changes that were happening to me.”

Cabaret magic

But what about her interest in burlesque? Lorrainne traces it back to an early fascination with cabaret and dancing. She went to dance school when she was young, and dreamed of working within the circus and cabaret world. “Even now, I could see myself being in Cirque Du Soleil,” she says. “It’s magical”.

After returning from a stint working in the West Indies, some friends told her about a local burlesque group. She went along and became immediately obsessed. “They ask you whether you want to do a show and tell you what you’ll be wearing. I thought: ‘Oh my God, this is amazing!’”

She’s been a fully-fledged Burly Girl for the last five years. “I’ve done show after show. I actually make costumes and help the other burlys when they do their group routines and solo acts. To see your creations on the stage, it’s just breath-taking,” she says.

"I’m still me"

She’s close to the other Burly Girls, who’ve been nothing but supportive. If anything, she says, they’re a little bit in awe of her ‘show must go on’ mentality. “They ask: ‘How can you look like that and have this horrible thing?’ I love it and I’m happy doing things for everybody as well. Cancer hasn’t changed who I am.”

“We’re a really strong, diverse group. I’m a nearly 57-year-old and I’m dancing on stage with girls who are 19.  We all feel the same, we enjoy and give a good show.  We do the best we can,” she says.

She acknowledges that it has been hard. The fatigue sometimes holds her back. But she says that the support she’s had from the Marie Curie Hospice, Cardiff and the Vale, where the outpatients team help her deal with pain and fatigue, has been great.

Lorrainne preparing for another burlesque performance.
Lorrainne preparing for another burlesque performance.

Determination and support

“For me having Marie Curie on the doorstep – it’s beautiful. The hospice has a sea view, and it’s a place where I walk past every day,” she says.

“I’ve had aromatherapy and reflexology. To me it’s just magical,” she says. You feel like the body is being cleansed, because that’s how it works.  The magical smell of essential oils helps you travel on the journey of relaxation.”

She praised the team at the hospice, adding: “They always accommodate your wishes the best they possibly can.”

Marie Curie has been a godsend for Lorrainne’s family too, she says. Marie Curie Nurses cared for Lorrainne’s mum, Joyce, at the end of her life, so she was able to be at home surrounded by her family.

Amazingly, thanks to a combination of sheer determination and the support she has, Lorrainne hasn’t missed a single burlesque show or dance class due to treatment since her diagnosis.

“When I’m on the stage I can honestly say that I feel free from thinking about my cancer,” says Lorrainne. “That’s why I feel like I’m addicted to it.”

Find out more about the care and support our hospices offer.