I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) in 2014 when I was 23 years old. At the time, I was living my dream dancing with the Joffrey Concert Group in New York City. I was in the best shape of my life. After my diagnosis, I wondered if I’d ever dance again.
My cancer responded very well to initial treatment. After 6 months of therapy, no active cancer was found in my body. I believed I had beaten the cancer and could soon move back to New York City to resume my dance career. I had trouble accepting that I’d need infusions every 3 weeks for the rest of my life.
I continued taking ballet class and performing on a freelance basis, and I soon realized that MBC and its treatments had taken a toll on my body. I’d never be able to dance like I did before my diagnosis.
It was very hard to accept how much this disease would affect my life. I gradually transitioned into being an MBC advocate, who’s also a ballet dancer. I met many wonderful people though my advocacy and that helped me cope with the sadness of losing my ballet career.
I went into a mental funk. I was depressed and very emotional about everything. I cried almost every day. I attended a number of advocacy events that summer to share my story and the challenges of living with MBC. For the first time, I started to cry when I spoke about my disease. The audience was always empathetic, but I knew something had to change. When I was with people I was OK, but I broke down crying when I was alone.
I resisted seeing a therapist because I’m uncomfortable speaking to a stranger, especially if they haven’t been in my shoes. My mom knew about my reluctance and suggested another option: getting an emotional support dog to keep me company and keep my mind off my progression.
My family has always had dogs, and we’re particularly fond of Pomeranians. My mom asked if I wanted a Pomeranian puppy that could be trained as a support dog. Before she could make the call, the breeder we got our other Poms from texted her about a female puppy she had available. We enthusiastically accepted. Momma Mia came to live with us in August 2019.
It was love at first sight and I couldn’t stop smiling. I had a dog who loved me and wanted to make me happy. Momma Mia let me see life through a puppy’s eyes. Once again, I was able to see the beauty of life and live in the moment, just like dogs do.
Momma Mia brought new adventures into my life. She came from a long line of American Kennel Club (AKC) dog show champions, so I decided to start showing her. It was something new for the both of us and we learned how to do it together. I made many new friends who weren’t connected to the cancer or dance world. It was a nice way to spend time with Momma and focus on other things.
Because my cancer is hormone-driven, I decided to get a complete hysterectomy and oophorectomy in July 2020. It was a hard decision to make because it ruled out having biological children. It made it a little easier to know I have Momma Mia. She’s like my daughter. I love having her and taking care of her. She filled a big part of my life.
I had a scan in August 2020 to see if my new treatment is working. Fortunately, it showed some improvements. While I’m still apprehensive, it’s reassuring to know Momma Mia will be waiting to greet me with a wagging tail and a sweet kiss no matter what.
Maggie Kudirka was determined to become a professional dancer since she was 4 years old. By age 22, she earned a place in the Joffrey Concert Group, living her dream and traveling the world. Just as all of her dedication was paying off, she was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Despite her disease and intense medical treatment, Maggie found a way to return to dance with the added purpose of being an inspiration to others. Maggie’s advocacy work includes the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, The Pink Agenda, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, and metastatic breast cancer campaigns for several pharmaceutical companies. In 2016, she spoke on Capitol Hill about her disease. Maggie portrayed herself in “The 100%: Maggie’s Story,” a virtual reality film that won the 2019 Tribeca X Award and received an Emmy Award nomination. Maggie now shares her life’s journey and talent to teach young dancers about perseverance and passion. Follow her on IG @BaldBallerina, or visit her site, www.BaldBallerina.org.