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Michelle McGarry, a survivor of breast cancer and cartilage cancer, dances with her teacher and partner at Fred Astaire Dance Studios. McGarry is one of seven women who will perform at Saturday's Dancing with the Survivors event in Denver, which raises money for women fighting breast cancer. Photo courtesy of Maracaibo Media Group

Survivors Take Breast Cancer Awareness to the Dance Floor

Local women will show off their moves at Saturday's Dancing with the Survivors event, to benefit the Pink Fund.

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Breast cancer turned Molly MacDonald’s life upside down—in more ways than one. MacDonald was diagnosed in 2005, five years after a difficult and costly divorce. She was already transitioning between jobs, and with cancer added to the mix, the University of Michigan graduate’s house went into foreclosure. Reduced to standing in line at a food bank to feed her five children, she didn’t know where to go next. “I had the divorce and then I had this illness and then I had this job loss, and now I’m potentially facing going to a homeless shelter,” MacDonald says. “It was terrifying.”

After speaking with other women experiencing similar circumstances in her native state of Michigan, MacDonald latched onto an idea that would help women whose financial lives had been thrown into chaos by cancer. With support from her new husband, she started the Pink Fund, a national nonprofit that provides financial support for short-term, non-medical expenses for breast cancer patients.

On October 8, the Pink Fund is bringing its Dancing with the Survivors event to Denver for the second time. Unlike typical fundraising walks or runs, this event features choreographed dances by seven Colorado women who have overcome breast cancer. Many of whom have stories that are similar to MacDonald’s.

One such story is that of Ozlem Ertunc, a Wash Park resident who was diagnosed three years ago. Near the time of her diagnosis, her husband’s father went into a coma in the couple’s native Turkey. While caring for their two young children, Ozlem endured chemotherapy and radiation while her husband, Omer, shuttled between Colorado to Turkey to care for his ailing father and wife.

Ozlem is now cancer free and set to dance with Omer—the only male participant in Saturday’s event. Inspired by the Pink Fund’s work, Omer offered to host the event at his natural stone supply business, Galleria of Stone. “The nice thing about it, the people that we’re going to be getting together with and the ones who are going to be on the stage, they’re all survivors like my wife,” Omer said. “They all won the battle against [cancer]. That just makes it unique. If I can be part of it as a business owner, as a husband, as a father, that just makes it more unique.”

Michelle McGarry, a nurse practitioner from Highlands Ranch and another featured dancer, will take the stage as a two-time cancer survivor. As a child, she survived a rare cartilage cancer that reached her brain, and in 2013 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries and uterus, new diseases ravaged her compromised immune system. McGarry says her last reconstruction in December 2015 was her 60th surgery.

McGarry and MacDonald agree that dancing puts a different spin on fundraising—and that’s what they love about it. “There are a lot of body issues that women experience after cancer,” MacDonald says. “There’s a sense that they’re no longer attractive or sexy, and dancing we know has so many health benefits. You have the combination of movement and music, and then you have touch. Touch has been proven to be so powerful for healing.”

Each participant partners with a professional dancer from Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Broomfield, and have prepared a specific dance to perform at the event. “I’m doing a foxtrot,” McGarry says. “I’ve never danced before in my life, and I’m having so much fun.”

If You Go: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.; Galleria of Stone, 12655 E. 42nd Ave., #60; $100 or make a donation in a participant’s name

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