Colorado Ballet’s Francisco Estevez Dances Through A Cancer Diagnosis Not Once, But Twice, To Reach Company’s Top Position

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Stephanie Wolf/CPR News
Colorado Ballet principal dancer Francisco Estevez warms up his muscles at the ballet barre during the company’s morning technique class on Sept. 24, 2019.

A routine doctor's visit in April 2018 brought unexpected news for Colorado Ballet dancer Francisco Estevez.

He learned he had a rare form of blood cancer, chronic myeloid leukemia. Thing is, this wasn’t Estevez's first cancer diagnosis. He had battled testicular cancer just five years earlier.

And yet, despite the back-to-back diagnoses, Estevez has attained something other dancers only dream of. This fall marks his first season as a principal dancer with Colorado Ballet, the company's top rank.

The first role he'll dance as a principal dancer for the company’s mainstage season is the lead in "Don Quixote," running Oct. 4 - 13, 2019 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver.

He was in a company meeting last February right before he was about to debut the role of the Tin Man in a new "Wizard of Oz" ballet when he learned about the promotion. He had spent the night before in the emergency room.

“Part of the side effects that I had from my treatment was that, whenever I got sick, the ailments from the illness were really compounded,” Estevez said. “I had picked up what I think was a stomach bug … and I got severely dehydrated. It was not a pleasant evening to experience right before you went on for a show.”

With the help of a dancer performing the same role in another cast, Estevez made it through opening night though.

“During the opening night, he was able to perform some parts of the role that I couldn’t because my muscles and body weren’t up to the task just yet,” Estevez said.

Stephanie Wolf/CPR News
Colorado Ballet principal dancer Francisco Estevez takes morning technique class at the ballet’s Denver facility on Sept. 24, 2019.

He was able to do the rest of the shows.

Estevez’s first experience with cancer came in 2013, not long after he and his wife, soloist Tracy Jones, had joined the company. The ensuing battle “was a bit of a whirlwind.”

“The day I went in, the urologist said, ‘Yes, it’s cancer and [we] have to operate the next day,’” he said.

Since his most recent diagnosis, Estevez has learned how to manage side effects of a daily chemotherapy drug with the physical and mental demands of his job. Early on, those were pretty significant: “shivery, headaches… and you just feel weak and tired.”

“The best way I can describe it is having the worst hangover of your life,” he said. “But I’ve adjusted to that well and it’s a fine balance between getting the proper nutrition and, thankfully, I exercise for a living so I always get the proper exercise.”