The Bald Ballerina Uses #TheTurningChallenge to Raise Awareness for Metastic Breast Cancer, and you can help!

Posted by on 07.23.2015

Last summer we met Maggie Kudirka, also known as Social Media’s, Bald Ballerina.  Maggie is a 23 year old ballet dancer, who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer a year ago.  If you have not seen her Facebook page, or don’t yet follow her on Instagram/Twitter (@BaldBallerina), you really should.

Maggie Kudirka, the bald ballerina, cancer, breast cancer, ballet, ballerina cancer, dance, ballerina, bald ballerina, the turning challenge

 Once diagnosed she quickly decided to turn her journey into something to help others by raising awareness “that anyone can get breast cancer, even a healthy and fit ballet dancer.”  I first connected with Maggie last year, and through this interview I had the opportunity to catch up with her. I was delighted to hear all about her journey over the past year.  Below you will find the inspirational story of a young woman who decided to turn cancer into something positive. She continued dancing, found new depth in her artistry, became a spokeswoman, and has now started a social media campaign not unlike the ALS ice bucket challenge.  

She says, “The turning challenge describes an activity, but it also called attention to the fact that the well-known breast cancer fundraising organizations have basically turned their backs on stage 4 metastatic breast cancer by only giving 2% of the funds they raise to research for a cure. 30% of breast cancer patients have metastatic breast cancer. My hope is to make this challenge a Turning Point for metastatic breast cancer research funding.”

So let’s help Maggie get #TheTurningChallenge trending! All you have to do are follow these simple guidelines:

#TheTurningChallenge Guidelines

  • Post a video of spinning, turning, or rotating.   It can be as difficult as 32 fouettes or as simple as the Hokie Pokie. You can hold a spinning object like a pinwheel, ride a merry-go-round, or film your dog chasing its tail. Be creative!
  • Nominate 3 or more friends to join the challenge by posting a video.
  • If you prefer not to complete the challenge, please donate to METAvivor where 100% of your donation will go to metastatic breast cancer research. You can also donate and complete the challenge. https://secure.metavivor.org/page/contribute/default.
  • Use   #TheTurningChallenge and post to Instagram or to The Turning Challenge page on Facebook.
  • Please “Like” The Turning Challenge Facebook page.
  • Don’t wait to be nominated. You can start a challenge!

To donate to Maggie and her journey, go to www.YouCaring.com/BaldBallerina.

To donate to fund research to find a cure for metastatic breast cancer, please visit www.METAvivor.org

 

Please join #TheTurningChallenge and help make it a turning point for Metastatic Breast Cancer. Follow this page to…

Posted by Bald Ballerina on Tuesday, July 7, 2015

 

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Catching up with Maggie Kudirka

RK: Last year when I interviewed you for TENDUS, you had just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at age 23. How is your recovery going?

MK: I am feeling great and still dancing – something that was a hope-filled dream just one year ago.

I was fortunate to have an extraordinary oncologist who selected the right cocktail of drugs for me and developed a treatment plan that would keep my bones as healthy as possible. A few days after my first chemotherapy treatment on July 1, 2014, my tumor began shrinking; after 6 weeks, it could no longer be palpated, and the sternum pain caused by the bone metastases had completely disappeared. After I finished chemotherapy in October, I had a PET-CT scan that confirmed the cancer was no longer active in my body. On December 26, 2014, I had a double mastectomy and the pathology report found no cancer in either breast.

Despite these great results, I can never consider myself cured. Once breast cancer metastasizes to another body part, our current medical technology is not sensitive enough to detect whether treatments have successfully killed all cancer cells. Some of these cells can lie dormant for years before they come to life and the cancer returns. Because of this, I must remain on three very expensive maintenance drugs that are delivered via infusion every three weeks for the rest of my life. I also must get PET-CT scans several times a year to make sure the cancer has not returned.

I am doing exceptionally well when you consider that my initial prognosis was very poor: only 15% of stage 4 breast cancer patients live 5 years or more; median life expectancy is 2 -3 years. Rather than accept I had only a few years to live, I decided that I would be among that very small percentage of stage 4 patients that live long beyond five years. I made my mind up to remain positive and to fill my world with positive thoughts and positive people. The many caring messages I received through the Bald Ballerina Facebook page helped enormously with this.

I am extremely grateful for my outstanding medical team and also for everyone who sent encouraging messages, prayers, and donations for my medical expenses. Fighting cancer is very much a team effort. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Maggie Kudirka, the bald ballerina, cancer, breast cancer, ballet, ballerina cancer, dance, ballerina, bald ballerina, the turning challenge RK: Through your journey you have continued dancing. How has this experienced changed you as a dancer? What role has dancing played in your recovery?

MK: My doctors encouraged me to dance as much as possible during treatments and it was a big help. I found that when I wasn’t feeling very well, even if I did just a simple barre, I would feel better and more energized.

Six days after my mastectomy, I gave myself a very simple ballet class. It was exhilarating to once again go through the simple barre exercises that ballet dancers have been doing for centuries. It made me truly alive and connected to all the generations of ballet dancers that preceded me. I very quickly discovered that now my center of gravity had changed and that I needed to relearn how to turn and how to balance.

Through this entire process and journey, I cherished each moment spent in the studio. I am acutely aware that while I may feel strong and healthy today, I never know what the next day may bring. I especially treasure every performance opportunity because I never know if it may be my last. People who have seen me dance before and after my cancer diagnosis, have remarked that my dancing has an intensity and depth it never had before. Perhaps it is because I now realize how important dance is to me; it helped me survive the most difficult challenge I have ever faced.

RK: You are very active in programs to raise awareness for breast cancer. Can you tell us a little bit about these ventures?

MK: Like most very young women, I knew very little about breast cancer when I was diagnosed. I got a crash course and learned the importance of taking charge of your health care and advocating for yourself.

Sadly, not all breast cancer patients have a good support system or receive good information about treatment options right after diagnosis. I wanted to inform and empower women, particularly young women, concerning treatment choices available to them. Also, I wanted everyone to realize that breast cancer is not just a disease of middle-aged and older women; that it does strike very young women and is often more aggressive in young women. This was one of the initial goals for the Bald Ballerina.

Shortly after your blog about me was published last summer, I began receiving numerous interview requests from various media outlets. I was quite surprised by this since I have never used a publicist or sent out any press releases. My local NBC affiliate produced a feature story that was picked up nationally and ran during the Stand Up To Cancer television campaign. This led to more and more interview and speaking requests.

As a dancer, I had no experience or training in public speaking or how to deal with the media. I felt I needed the support of a well-respected breast cancer education and advocacy organization to become a good spokesperson. Fortunately, a patient navigator directed me to Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC). LBBC had a program that trained young women to advocate for breast cancer. So I applied, was accepted, and became a Young Advocate for LBBC. Last spring, I got additional LBBC training to advocate for metastatic breast cancer through their Hear My Voice program. I am using that training to work with METAvivor, a non-profit staffed entirely by volunteers and where 100% of all donations go to find a cure for metastatic breast cancer.

Last fall, I became involved with the Dancers Care Foundation which was started by Sandy Coyte of Starbound in 2002. Over a million dollars has been raised by Dancers Care since 2002 and 100% goes to the Weill Cornell Medical Center in NYC to fund medical research for a cure. Sandy shares my desire to educate young dancers about cancer and has invited me to speak at Starbound regional and national events. Dancers Care Foundation produced a short film about my cancer journey that premiered during their 2015 nationals. I am honored to represent this amazing organization that truly is raising funds to find a cure.

Maggie Kudirka, the bald ballerina, cancer, breast cancer, ballet, ballerina cancer, dance, ballerina, bald ballerina, the turning challengeRK: Do you see awareness programs and fundraising as a possible career path for you in the future?

MK: Since the breast cancer had metastasized to my bones, I had no idea if I would ever dance again. This of course was devastating to me. So, I directed my energies into raising awareness among young women through the Bald Ballerina Facebook page. My message resonated with my friends who began sharing it with their friends and so the movement grew to over 6,300 organic followers from over 40 different countries worldwide.

My dream career is to dance with a professional ballet company, but realistically, I don’t think it will happen. First, I am 5’9” and much too tall for most ballet companies. Second, I would need a very understanding artistic director because my need for infusions every three weeks could interfere with scheduling and touring. So I have become more of a free-lance dancer in the last six months, but I do miss the camaraderie of working in a company and the opportunity to perform as part of an ensemble. I still hope that one day, this will happen.

In the meantime, Bald Ballerina made it possible for me to transition into a new career path: that of spokesperson and advocate, particularly in the dance community. I have received numerous invitations to teach a master class along with a Q and A session for dance students. I love these events because they give me the opportunity to personally connect with young dancers who know very little about breast cancer. There are many misconceptions about breast cancer and very little knowledge about metastatic breast cancer. The incidence of breast cancer in very young women is rising, so it is especially important to reach this group.
I hope to eventually to raise enough money to enable Bald Ballerina to help other dancers with cancer with medical and living expenses. It is hard to concentrate on getting well when you can’t pay your bills. 

RK: You have recently started a social media campaign via hashtag “The Turning Challenge.” Could you tell us about the challenge and its overall goal?

MK: About a month ago, one of my Facebook followers commented on a post about metastic breast cancer that we need to do something along the lines of last year’s ice bucket challenge for ALS. So my mom and I began brainstorming to find a fun activity that could be done by dancers and non-dancers and we came up with The Turning Challenge. The only rule was to make a short video of turning, rotating, or spinning in some fashion. It could be as simple as holding a pinwheel or as difficult as 32 fouettes. Turns were always one of my favorite movements and I knew many dancers would jump at the chance to display their turning virtuosity to raise awareness for a worthy cause. Each video submitted is a special treat for me.

The name Turning Challenge was very appropriate on many levels. It described the activity, but it also called attention to the fact that the well-known breast cancer fundraising organizations have basically turned their backs on stage 4 metastatic breast cancer by only giving 2 percent of the funds they raise to research to find a cure for metastatic breast cancer. This is especially unfair because 30% of breast cancer patients have metastatic breast cancer. Every day, 108 women in the USA die from stage 4 cancer; this is about 40,000 women each year. This number has remained stable for the last 15 years because almost all of the money raised goes toward awareness campaigns, early detection, and treatments for stages 1, 2, and 3 breast cancer.

My hope is to make this challenge a Turning Point for metastatic breast cancer research funding.

No one wants to think about the possibility of their cancer returning or about the possibility of dying from breast cancer, but until a cure is found, no breast cancer patient can ever be certain that they are cured. This is true even after both breasts have been removed and no cancer is detected following surgery. It is a possibility that no one wants to talk about. It is the elephant in every breast cancer patient’s room.

“I need everyone’s help to raise awareness of our desperate need for a cure for Metastatic Breast Cancer by joining me in the Turning Challenge. Let’s send a message to breast cancer fu­ndraising operations to turn around and look at us Stage 4 patients; we deserve more than 2%. Help make this a Turning Point for metastatic breast cancer research.”

 

Maggie Kudirka, the bald ballerina, cancer, breast cancer, ballet, ballerina cancer, dance, ballerina, bald ballerina, the turning challenge

Merchandise to help Maggie Kudirka with her medical expenses. To purchase visit, www.BaldBallerina.org.

RK: If readers would like to donate to you, your journey, and your new ventures, how can they do so?

MK: First, I want to expression my deepest gratitude and appreciation to your readers who helped with my medical bills last year through their donations. The costs of fighting cancer are enormous, even with health insurance. On my one year Cancerversary, I compiled what it cost to fight cancer:

Total cost of my treatment: $334,157.

Cost of chemotherapy & maintenance drugs: $237,483 (71% of cost)

Insurance paid $308,339.

Donations and my family paid $25,818.

Sadly, the deductible and co-pays reset every January, so the cycle begins anew every year. The huge financial impact of cancer on families has been called a hidden side effect of cancer. I began selling Bald Ballerina clothing to help offset some of these expenses. They are available at www.BaldBallerina.org and 100% of the proceeds goes to offset my medical expenses.

 

To donate to Maggie and her journey, go to www.YouCaring.com/BaldBallerina.

To donate to fund research to find a cure for metastatic breast cancer, please visit www.METAvivor.org

 

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