"DWTS" Pro Kept This "Embarrassing" Health Diagnosis From Producers
"I wanted people to think I was perfectly healthy," dancer Witney Carson explained.
Becoming a first-time pro dancer on Dancing With the Stars and performing each week in front of millions of viewers sounds nerve-racking enough, but for one pro, it was hardly the toughest thing she was going through at the time. When Witney Carson was promoted to a professional dance partner for the spring 2014 season—she had previously been a troupe dancer—she was going through some health issues. Carson had been diagnosed with melanoma and underwent two surgeries right before her promotion.
In a new interview with People, Carson, now 28, said she didn't tell the producers because she was too "embarrassed." She also started rehearsing before being cleared by her doctor, which led to another issue. Read on to see what Carson had to say and to find out why she felt she couldn't tell anyone at the show about her health.
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Carson was diagnosed with skin cancer.
Carson was diagnosed with melanoma only weeks before leaving for Los Angeles to film DWTS in 2014.
"I finally got this call that was going to just skyrocket my career. It was my dream," she told People. "All of a sudden I get diagnosed with melanoma and of course, being myself, I'm like 'It's fine. I can still go on the show."
According to Mayo Clinic, melanoma is "the most serious type of skin cancer." It "develops in the cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin—the pigment that gives your skin its color. Melanoma can also form in your eyes and, rarely, inside your body, such as in your nose or throat."
She underwent two surgeries.
Carson had to have surgery on her foot and on her hip.
"They took an inch diameter around the mole on my foot as well as all of my lymph nodes in my left hip," Carson said. "It was just spreading so quickly and they had to get rid of the lymph nodes and there was lots of healing time. I think I took six weeks and then I went straight to Dancing With the Stars. My foot was wrapped. I still had stitches in it."
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She was ashamed to share her diagnosis.
Carson said she was reluctant to tell the show's producers about her diagnosis and surgeries, because she didn't want to be thought of as unhealthy.
"I think I was embarrassed only in the fact that I was an athlete and I was supposed to be encompassing everything healthy and fit," she said. "I was supposed to be doing all the right things to be an athlete, and so it was embarrassing for me to be like, 'Yes, I had, I was sick. I was literally sick.' The producers didn't know. My partner didn't know. I wanted people to think I was perfectly healthy."
Carson's partner during her first season as a pro was singer Cody Simpson. The pair came in ninth place. The following season, Carson and her partner actor Alfonso Ribeiro took home the Mirrorball Trophy.
She wasn't cleared to dance by her doctor.
Carson began work on the show without approval from her doctor.
"I walk in my first day of rehearsals; I'm just going full force," she said. "The doctor has not cleared me for any active anything. I just decided to do it anyway because how could I not? It's my dream."
She remembered completing a routine during that time and realizing that she had caused another issue. "I'm like, 'My foot feels so sweaty. I'm so sweaty. This is so weird,' and I looked down and my white tennis shoe is just covered in blood, just covered in blood," Carson said. "Ripped my stitches open. I had to get my foot wrapped every week after I did the live show. So if you go back through the videos, you'll see my left foot wrapped in gauze."
She believes this habit caused her skin cancer.
There are two reasons that Carson was at an increased risk for developing melanoma. First, both of her parents had been diagnosed with it earlier.
"My mom's wasn't as serious as my dad's but they were adamant about us kids getting checked every six months," she told Parade in 2019. She said of her father, "I knew melanoma was something serious because with my dad, it spread all the way to his lungs and he honestly almost passed away because of it."
Second, Carson often used tanning beds as a teen. "Every single week after high school I would be in the tanning beds," she said. "I thought I was invincible. I thought I was young and healthy and basically nothing could touch me."
Carson told People, "I have not set foot in a tanning bed since I was diagnosed, which was 19."
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Now, she's trying to help others lower their risk.
In her interview with Parade, Carson said she was "ashamed" of the scar on her foot at first, because "being a dancer, you want to be perfectly healthy. If you have a sickness or something wrong with you for, at least for me, it felt like I was inadequate in a way." But, she continued, "I realized one day that it was a battle scar and I had survived something pretty serious."
She now wants to raise awareness of melanoma and help other people.
"I've devoted a lot of my time to making sure that people, especially young adults, know to protect their skin," she told Parade. "Stay out of UV tanning beds, wear sunscreen, cover yourself up, don't lay out in the sun. I started hearing about college campuses having UV tanning beds at the campus and that just scared me because it causes melanoma. And I know that caused mine."