It’s time for Tucsonans to raise a toast to Kelsey Taylor Luria, the inspiration for the Bald Beauties Project.
It is a fitting tribute for the young woman who said she was determined “to be someone who would make an impact on the world” and has managed to do just that in spite of the fact that her life was cut short three years ago by acute myeloid leukemia.
April 12 marked Kelsey’s 21st birthday. In honor of the occasion, the Bald Beauties Project has donated $21,000 to Target Pediatric AML, a grassroots initiative that seeks to speed access to promising targeted therapies and develop more personalized treatment regimens tailored to young AML patients.
The nonprofit will also hold Brunch & Bubbles to benefit the Bald Beauties Project at 11 a.m. Sunday, April 22, at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, 6360 N. Campbell Ave.
“The brunch is a time for us to be able to enjoy and raise a glass to Kelsey in her honor. Flemings was a place that we would celebrate in between hospital stays. She always dreamed of mimosas and bubblies, so we have included mimosas as part of the brunch,” said Maya Luria, Kelsey’s mom.
Maya said Kelsey also dreamed of raising awareness and finding safer treatments for children with AML. According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 19,500 people will be diagnosed with the disease this year; about 700 of those will be children.
“The disease varies significantly from older adults who have AML and therefore research and drug targets will differ in young people. We are looking for targeted therapies that provide safer and more effective treatments for young patients, which is something that Kelsey felt strongly about. She didn’t want anyone else to suffer through AML,” Maya said.
Kelsey also wanted kids with cancer to know that bald is beautiful. It was a realization that she came to after two photo shoots during her treatment.
“For so many kids, preteen and teenage years are difficult times anyway, and their hair is a big piece of who they are. After her second photo shoot, Kelsey really started to feel confident and empowered and wanted to be able to provide that for other kids,” said Maya, who made the dream a reality by co-founding the Bald Beauties Project with Kelsey’s dad, Michael Luria. Since inception, the project has provided 83 photo shoots; 12 more are scheduled.
Ellen Duperret of Ellen Duperret Photography has photographed 35 of the children and has witnessed firsthand the empowerment and joy the portraits provide.
“They are very fun and lighthearted and the kids have a great time. For these kids, the photos are an important record of that part of their lives. We have had a number of kids who have passed and those pictures are just so valuable to their families,” said Duperret, who comes away from every photo shoot “with such a full heart.”
Sessions includes portraits of the child with professional makeup upon request, as well as photos of the entire family, including siblings and pets. Each family receives a wall portrait, along with a computer flash drive that holds 50 photos so they can make other copies.
“They are all so grateful. Many of the families have never had professional photos before. The photo shoots are something very special that they might not have otherwise taken the time to do with cancer treatments and everything else going on in their lives,” said Duperret.
Overall, Maya believes that Kelsey would be gratified about all that the Bald Beauties Project has accomplished.
“I think she would be so proud. She wanted to impact the world and I hope that is what we do with this project. In our small way we just wan to do what we can to help other families,” Maya said.