“I have breast cancer. Will you help me tell my story?”

20 10 2013

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month I’d like to share another amazing woman’s story and tell you how, in some small way, breast cancer photography helped this woman in her journey to recovery. I’m calling her “Rose”.

Our first contact with Rose was a phone call. She had a determined tone of voice on the phone, stating, ‘she didn’t want a consultation first’, ‘she was scheduled for a mastectomy’, ‘she would be bringing two friends with her for moral support’ and ‘she needed to get in right away now that she had made up her mind to do a photo shoot first’.

The following day three grim-faced ladies were on our doorstep, Rose leading the way, flanked by her two very skeptical friends. Rose made a striking first impression with her thick, shoulder-length, salt & pepper colored hair framing large expressive eyes. That day her eyes showed fear and fierce determination. During her photo shoot she revealed she was considering writing a book about her breast cancer journey and asked us if we would take the photos chronicling some of the significant steps and stages in her battle. We let her know we’d there for her whenever she called and how honored we were that she’d trust us in these most vulnerable moments.

We had four, post mastectomy, photo shoots through different steps of reconstruction and every photo shoot had a story. The evolution was something to behold perhaps even more on an emotional level than physical.

Shoot # 1. The first photo shoot was not long after her mastectomy. We made no attempt to minimize the emotions engraved upon her face- sorrow, loss, fear and determination. But that was only part of the story. Rose chose to wear black pants with a wide, embroidered, belt which was emblazoned with pink and red roses. Her expression, in juxtaposition with her colorful belt, let you know there was so much more to this fierce lady than your first impression.

Shoot # 2. The second photo shoot, meant to chronicle skin expanders, was more about love. For this shoot Rose arrived with her college-age daughter. And guess who was bald? Not Rose. Her daughter had shown up on Rose’s doorstep unannounced sporting a bald head as a show of solidarity for what lay ahead. The wardrobe selection for today was a prayer shawl. I learned there are groups of wonderful people who knit shawls of comfort and hope. I don’t know if all of the shawls are as beautiful as this shawl which looked like it was made of silk and mohair yarn with inspiring charms woven randomly through-out. While this shawl came from someone unknown, what certainly was known, is that the hands which created it made it with loving intention and that love was present with us on that day.

Shoot # 3. When I opened our front door there were two huge smiling eyes looking directly at me awaiting my reaction. “Rose, your eyes are so much more beautiful without all that hair!” Sure enough Rose decided proactively to shave her head and therefore spare herself the pain of finding clumps of hair on her pillow and everywhere else- the anticipated side effect of chemo treatments. And she really did look beautiful.

We then went a long time with no word from Rose or her daughter and began to worry about her but didn’t want to call her home and potentially upset her or her family. Finally, on a long shot, I searched Facebook for her and her daughter hoping I would find a hint about her prognosis. And there she was in a recent picture skiing with her family and enjoying life! I decided I could safely call her to see if she was ready for another photo shoot.

When she got back to me she said she was feeling great and wasn’t sure she would do another shoot after all but would let me know. Rose explained she didn’t think she really needed to tell her story now, that the process of documenting it had helped her get through the long ordeal and had given her the strength and motivation to keep on fighting through her despair. The goal of ‘helping others’ had ultimately helped her.

Shoot # 4. Rose called again. Friends had told Rose. “You have to tell your story. There are people in need waiting for it.” Now it was time for the happy pictures; the ones that give us hope for ourselves and our loved ones.

We did print out all the images Rose selected for her digital book though I truly don’t know if she published it or not. I do know Rose touched us and I hope her story from my eyes helps someone else.

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Our lives are like a crazy quilt.

10 04 2012

You are the sum of all you have ever been and experienced in your lifetime,  like a crazy quilt.  We all know what a quilt is, but crazy quilts of the very best kind were made from scraps of fabrics saved from items of clothing worn by you or family members and decorated by their creator with embroidery, buttons and sometimes hand paintings.  The family heirloom I had was mostly made of silks and fancy fabrics that came from gowns and dresses commemorating special events and memorable occasions and was lovingly embellished with artistic embroidery and hand paintings with dates and names of loved ones and memories long gone.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we wore our life like our crazy quilt growing ever more colorful and interesting as we add to our life experiences?  With age there does come a time when we feel increasingly invisible, described kindly as being “elderly” and just plain “old” by others.  But every person has been so much more than that.  They were someone’s precious child, perhaps a brother or a sister, a boyfriend/girlfriend, a lover, a provider and caregiver, very often a parent and a grandparent.   Wrapped in our crazy quilt, to ward off the chills of old age, we‘d be visible again; the highlights of our life displayed artistically across our quilt to be admired or to serve as a source of conversation and connection.

With this in mind, I ‘d like to share a story we were told by one of our customers and why she felt so strongly about having some artistic bodyscape portraits done by us.

This is the story she told us. “One day I went to visit my grandma in the assisted living facility where she’d recently moved.  In her room was a life-size, cardboard cut-out of a Vegas-style showgirl complete with a feather-plumed headpiece.  ‘Grandma, what are you doing with that in your room?’”

“Why honey, that’s me,” her grandmother answered. “When I was young and beautiful like you are now, I was a Vegas showgirl.”

All she could think was that her grandmother had a whole life about which she’d  known next to nothing and that her sweet grandmother had so many untold stories to share.

Our client explained, “I try to take care of myself but I’m not getting any younger. I’ll earn every wrinkle and gray hair along the way but I really want to have sensuous pictures of me as a reminder to myself and others that I was once young and beautiful too!”

I’m betting she’ll still be beautiful years to come and hoping people take the time to look at the crazy quilt she created of her life.

See how her sensual pictures may have looked. BodyPhotage