(photo © Lucas Chilczuk)
Every so often, a dancer comes along who not only impresses us with her power on the dance floor, but also with her endurance and strength when she’s off it. Maggie Kudirka is one of those dancers. In June, after graduating with a BFA in dance from Towson University and joining The Joffrey Concert Group in NYC, Maggie, age 23, was diagnosed with breast cancer. On top of that, her family didn’t have the money to pay for her treatments. Instead of letting that get her down, Maggie dubbed herself the “Bald Ballerina” and took to social media to share her story. In the process, she hoped to both raise money for her medical bills and raise awareness that young, healthy people are still at risk.
Dance Spirit spoke to Maggie about how things are going so far.
Dance Spirit: When and how did you find out you had breast cancer?
Maggie Kudirka: In late February, I noticed a lump. I was getting ready to go on tour with the Joffrey Concert Group, and we were doing a lot of partner work and upper body strengthening, so I assumed I’d just pulled a pec or something. I didn’t think anything of it. Then in March, I felt a pop in my sternum while dancing, and I thought I’d re-pulled the same muscle. I went to our physical therapist, who agreed, and said I should rest it. But weeks later, with plenty of rest, it wasn’t getting better. When I finished out the season in May, I went to a sports doctor, who told me it was a sprained sternum. But I’ve pulled my sternum before, and it went away on its own. This pain wasn’t going anywhere. In the back of my mind, I knew something bigger was wrong.
I didn’t have a regular doctor to call, because I’d just moved to NYC. And most doctors I talked to had a three-month waiting list. Finally, I found someone who could get me in. She got me a biopsy, a mammogram, a sonogram…everything. On June 16, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Maggie (right) with Suzanne Farrell Ballet soloist Violeta Angelova
(photo via Bald Ballerina)
DS: What’s your treatment plan?
MK: We’re taking it step by step. Right now, I have six treatments of chemotherapy scheduled every three weeks, and I just finished my second one. After that, we’ll see how my body reacts. Then the next step would be surgery.
DS: So far, how has chemo affected your dancing?
MK: I’m not as strong as I was before. But I’m trying to stay in shape and do as much as I can. Instead of dancing 9 to 5, I try to take one class per day. I do have days where I’m too exhausted to dance. I’m happy I’m still able to get to class, even if it’s not as much as I’d like to.
DS: What’s the financial burden of all these treatments?
MK: One of my chemo drugs is $9,000 for each treatment. And I need at least six treatments. Since Joffrey Concert Group is a student company, I’ve had no income this past year. And my parents own an auto repair shop, which is not the biggest moneymaker in the world. We’ve never been the type of family to ask for handouts, so reaching out to others for help was a big decision. When we created the youcaring.com page, we thought, if we don’t get anything, we don’t get anything. But luckily, family, friends and complete strangers have reached out to help us. It’s helping me stay positive, and now I want to fight this even more, so I can thank these people for helping me.
DS: What kind of reactions have you had to your Bald Ballerina social media pages?
MK: I originally decided to create the Bald Ballerina Facebook page to keep my friends and family informed, since I didn’t really want to send out a hundred emails or have everyone call me to ask how I was doing. I liked the nickname Bald Ballerina, since it gave my ballerina image a tough edge.
I’ve had a couple other dancers who have had cancer reach out. And the mom of a little girl in Chicago who has cancer contacted me, because her daughter also does ballet. Now we’re sending each other packages and letters. It’s amazing that something like this can bring complete strangers together.
With Ballet West II's Sanford Placide in Brooklyn
(photo by Jacob Hiss)
DS: Besides raising money, what do you hope the Bald Ballerina pages will accomplish?
MK: Sometimes I think this was supposed to happen, so that I can make people aware that you can get breast cancer at any age, no matter how fit or healthy you are. I’m hoping I can eventually turn Bald Ballerina into a non-profit organization that helps provide grants to dancers with cancer. Dancers don’t make that much money to begin with, and then we can’t work while we’re getting treatment. So it’s especially important.
DS: How have you managed to keep up such a positive attitude?
MK: I don’t think I would be as positive without everyone’s loving comments. Before I started the page, I was moping all the time, and I was depressed. But this has given me something to do, and a way to stay connected. It helps me remember that I’m not the only one out there with this. Other people have overcome it, and I can, too. I will get past this chapter in my life.