This section is about me and my life. Things that make me go "Hmm", or ideas that rattle my brain. I also will occasionally post personal thoughts about my life...kids, pets, the husband. Enjoy this little inside glimpse into who I am.
You have to know that I don't post a whole lot about my family online. I like to keep my private life a bit more private than most. I don't share my pain, my heart ache, our struggles. I like to stay positive online, to post happy thoughts instead of the downers.
However, there are times when you just need to let it out. You need prayers or help. You have to just release the inner turmoil that is slowly killing you on the inside. Especially when you are a mom.
When you are a mom, you are the example for your kids. You are strong. You are their teacher, their protector. You are the first line of defense for your kiddos when it comes to the cruel world...the shield that allows them to be kids just a bit longer. But that creates a huge burden on you...worries fill your head and your heart.
Most of the time, you can just brush them off. I mean seriously! Why worry about a tree falling on your kid as they walk to school. What are the chances of that actually happening? Slim. So you let that stuff slide in and right back out.
Then there are the things you never saw coming.
In July of this year, our 8 year old daughter Paige was cleaning up the table after dinner and I noticed a spot on her hand. I was a little upset thinking she had been drawing on her hand with a marker. So, I stopped her and said "What is that kid?" She said "Oh! My teacher accidentally bumped me with a pen before we left for Christmas break."
*Inner Monologe* WHAT!?! That makes NO sense. That was 8 months ago, Kid! UGH! Ok. Just breathe.
After asking to see it, my heart began to sink as I realized it wasn't a pen mark at all. It was a misshapen, discolored mole. The same mole that just 9 months earlier was a tiny little pin head and a nice light brown. Alarms started going off in my head as I looked my daughter in the eye and asked "how long has it been this color and shape?" She didn't know and insisted that it was just a pen mark from Christmas time. However, no amount of scrubbing would make this mark go away.
I knew in my heart something was wrong, and the very next day made an appointment with a dermatologist. Two weeks we would have to wait. Two weeks of me checking her hand daily. Two weeks of my mom worries to build. I kept telling myself "Erika, you are over-reacting. This kid has never had a sunburn a day in her life. It's just a mole. No need to worry." But no matter what I tried to say to myself, my gut knew this wasn't good and my brain reeled with worry. It took all of my strength to not show my concerns to my kids, but I truly think they could sense something wasn't right.
The day of the appointment came, and the Doctor came into the room happy as a clam. "It will all be ok now. It's nothing to worry about, " my brain said. We talked as the Doctor looked over our 11 year old first. Nothing exciting on her. Yay! Then Paige....and the Doctor's face went from happy-go-lucky to concern instantly. I knew that look. It was the same look I had been carrying inside me for two weeks. She could see what I saw, but then said "You know. Moles on the hand can grow weird, but lets just take a biopsy today to make sure. I'm sure it's just a normal little mole that's just got it's own unique shape due to it's location." Yes. It's nothing my brain screamed at me as I said "Sounds good." Better to be safe than sorry, and the Doctor is just being cautious. Nothing to worry about.
6 days later...my phone rings. The nurse from the dermatology clinic says "Hello. May I speak with the mother of Paige?" Here we go I thought...it's all fine...it's all fine. Then she said the results....Severely abnormal cells with a high probability of melanoma. I had no breath. No words. All I could say was "ok." to whatever else she was talking about. What was she saying? Oh, they have to do surgery? This is my baby! How did this happen? What? What did she just ask me? Oh...she wants to set up the surgery appointment and call me back..."Ok".
As I hung up the phone and set it down on the table the tears filled my eyes. She is 8 years old! She has NEVER had a sunburn in her life. Never! I couldn't breathe. My head filled with thousands of scenarios. Cancer treatments. Scars....death...NO! No! No! No!
I got up and walked into the office where my husband was finishing up an email for work. I couldn't even look at him. "That was the dermatologists office on the phone...she has severely abnormal cells with a high probability of melanoma." I said as the tears started pouring down my face. He grabbed me and pulled me in for a bear hug as I sobbed. We cried together and my worries were now our worries for our baby girl.
The date for her excision of the site was set, and we carried on with life. I became a bit more withdrawn with friends, family and social media. Letting my business slide a bit more than I should...even debating whether or not I want to even stay in business. My kids mean more to me than anything in the world, and I would gladly sacrifice my dreams and passions for their lives in a heartbeat. But I kept telling myself...it will be ok. This is just a bump in the road. You need to focus on the positives. No one is dead! She is strong! Positive focus. Breathe.
I pushed the worries back hard as we went on our Anniversary trip. We laughed. We joked around. It was fun. But the whole time the mom worry in the back of my head nagged at me, and I wanted to be with my kids. Soaking up all of their snuggles. We both kept saying "The kids would have loved this," or "I wish the kids were here."
Now, a parent's worry for their child's safety is constant. You worry about them falling, breaking bones, getting kidnapped, getting in a car accident...just all around doing something stupid and getting hurt from that decision. The normal worries. Most parents don't worry about Cancer until they have to. And it's not because you don't worry about your child getting a severe illness. No! It's because THAT is so hard to fathom, so painfully hard to imagine you just don't let your brain go there. When it does, you feel helpless. This isn't a boo boo you can kiss and make better. This isn't a "learning opportunity" on how to make a better decision. It is an illness that could have just as easily have hit you or your neighbor. A random, invisible enemy. You could never have protected her from this. You know the percentages, the outcomes of so many with similar diagnoses, but you can't stop the path she is now on. You are now a helpless bystander, waiting and praying your baby is strong enough to fight back for herself.
So here we are. The day of the "surgery". Anxious to know how it all will play out next. Two other moles may need to be removed today as well, and my worry for her builds. This isn't what I ever imagined for her. Not ever and definitely not at 8 years of age. I now have to have faith in her strength, to support her on this journey as best I can. Maybe it will turn out to all be just a fluke. Maybe she will never have this issue ever again. We just don't know. But for right now, my "mom worries" fill my days and nights as we wait for the next step.
I am a strong believer in helping others. To give back to our community and pay it forward. Because by helping others we better the world, our community and in turn ourselves. It opens hearts and minds, and heals the soul.
This last year I was introduced to a wonderful organization, Magic Hour, that embraces this same belief by connecting Professional Photographers to individuals fighting battles with cancer. The photographers in this organization are vetted to ensure quality in service, and I can tell you right now...I cried when I filled out my application to them.
They asked "Why...". Why would I ever want to help someone fighting cancer? So many reasons for me....my Mother-In-Law winning her fight with breast cancer, my Father winning his battle with kidney cancer, my grandmother dying from ovarian & breast cancer....but the story that tugs the most on my heart is of my half sister's battle with breast cancer. A young mom of 3 kids, fighting a loosing battle.
Every year I wish I had more photos of her. Photos of her with her kids. Photos of her and I. Photos....just any more photos of her. If only Magic Hour had been around back then. She is the reason I applied, and the reason I love giving back to those in need.
So I applied, was accepted, and after almost a year of being a member, was connected with a local family that needed professional photos done. Miss Suzanne, a retired Army Vet, is battling Ewing's Sarcoma...a rare juvenile form of bone cancer. She and her family had never had professional photos done before, and they figured now was the perfect time.
Now, when you hear the word "Cancer", what do you think of? If you have seen the ugly side of cancer, you think of weakness...IV tubes...hospital rooms...death & grief. You expect the worst. You imagine a frail, sickly human being that is at deaths door. But Miss Suzanne was nothing like that. Her smile lit up the studio! She was bubbly, full of energy, joked around, and was excited for her photo shoot.
We had already pre-planned family photos with her loving husband, daughter and two sons, as well as some of her in her belly dancing costume. I was certain this costume was going to be one from years gone by...nope! This beautiful woman has been dancing throughout her chemo treatments. Performing in groups or by herself, for large audiences and small events.
All I could say was "Wow!". Amazed by the strength and happiness radiating from this woman. Her response was simply..."People in my treatments tell me I'm inspiring, but I don't think I am. I just like to dance, and there are much more inspiring stories out there."
Beautiful. Radiant. Humble.
And if you are wondering what her prognosis is, it's pretty good! Ewing's Sarcoma is very rare and usually only found in kids age 6-18. It is usually found in the legs and pelvis, but in Miss Suzanne's case her lower spine. The extreme pain she experienced this last year alerted doctors early, and treatments seem to be working well. She still has several more treatments ahead of her, but her doctor's seem hopeful for her recovery.
Her thoughts on her diagnosis "Well if I hadn't been such a child all my life, I probably never would have caught this!"
That right there. That's her! That wonderful sense of humor. That positive attitude. The joy and happy nature she exudes. This woman is a fighter. An inspiration, no matter what she says! An army veteran and I'm sure someday soon a cancer survivor.
I feel so blessed to have been connected with this fantastic woman and her beautiful family. To have had the opportunity to meet her amazing dance troupe, the Prairie Moon Belly Dancers. To have seen the love and support she has all around her. I am inspired. And I hope these photos are an inspiration to anyone else out there fighting back any illness. Stay positive and never give up.
"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass…it's about learning to dance in the rain."
Please be advised ***TRIGGER WARNING*** below.
When you are in school learning photography, or even if you are just taking online classes to better your craft, you'll learn how to use your camera, to edit, to pose, to light a subject, but there are just some things that are never taught. Things that have to come from you.
Now, some of things in this business you will find silly, some awkward, some you will question your career choice, and others will break your heart into a million pieces. The silly and awkward are the items you never thought about when you started out in photography. Usually, the body parts you might have to zoom in on to "touch up". I still shake my head each time I have to take out a baby's diaper rash, fix a clients pant zipper, or hide a pesky nipple that is being a bit distracting. These things make you giggle, shake your head, and wonder if your clients only knew what you do to give them the perfect portraits.
It's part of the job! And while these moments might be a little awkward... you get through them with a smile.
But there are other moments. The moments that make you question everything. The moments that break your heart.
In my career I have been asked to photograph everything under the sun...Birth, Maternity, Weddings, Newborns, Birthdays, Product shots, Boudoir, Head shots....You name it and I have been asked to photograph it. All are part of the typical photography career realm. They are what you think of when you think "Photographer", right?!
But every once in awhile, you will get asked to photograph death, sorrow, and grief. Every once in awhile, your typical happy session will not end on a happy note. Every once in a while...you get a call from a friend at 6:30am asking you to hurry to their side, camera in hand, to photograph the last moments of some one close to them.
Whether it be a friend or loved ones funeral, a person with a terminal illness, or the loss of a child, these moments - these final moments - should be captured beautifully, tastefully, and professionally. You have the skills, but what isn't taught is how these moments will impact your life and define who you are.
Be gracious. Be kind. Be professional. But most of all...be there in the moment with them. When you get the call, put yourself in their shoes for just a moment before you decide what you will do. Ask yourself, what do YOU want for them, and what do they need from this session.
You may choose never to take on sessions like this, and that is fine! These types of sessions are hard. They are emotionally draining. They can leave you questioning life. There is no manual on how to react, how to feel, how to try and push through with photos when you really just want to sit down and bawl your eyes out. It all must come from inside you.
If you feel you will not be able to create the appropriate images a family desires from this sad situation...then say NO. It is OK to say no! In fact, it is very professional to take a step back and do what is best for the client. It is a wonderful thing to know your limits, and will gain you much respect from most any client and colleague in this industry. It is a great thing to tell a family that you want what is best for them and their situation, and that you aren't sure you are it...but that you are willing to find them someone that can help. Always try to help.
If you feel you CAN take on these types of sessions, never be afraid to cry. Never be afraid to let down your guard. Never be afraid to hold a hand or give a hug. Never. Be. Afraid.
Have empathy, have compassion, show respect. Listen and remain open...knowing your life will be changed forever for giving this amazing gift to these families. You can do this.
I have been blessed to photograph loss a few times in my career. And I know what you are thinking...blessed? But yes...BLESSED! While these aren't "typical" sessions, each time I have accepted the challenge...allowing this person...these people to change me. Always for the better. Their stories, their lives, the love their families have for them...it is an honor to be there and photograph their final moments. My heart is forever touched, and I am grateful to have known them.
Always be grateful for the lessons life brings. Always!
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