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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