A while ago I started a project which I had called Project Love. This project is dear to my heart for a few reasons. While I was growing up my family welcomed a young lady into our lives. This lady had exceptional needs, little did I, at 8 years of age, know that this young lady would change my life. She has shown me how to see the world differently. She revealed to me that each person is unique in their own way, no matter what their needs. She showed me how to love people more. She showed me that laughter is truly the best medicine. Because of her, I became involved with an organization called Track 3 where I taught adults and children how to ski adaptively.
One might ask, “Why is this important for this post?” The simple answer is, I started the project of photographing family lifestyle sessions because of this special young lady. My goal in this project was, and still is, to bring to light how important these children and adults are regardless of their need.
This is not the first family I have photographed, nor will they be my last. Here is a small write up from M about how her diagnosis changed their life and how you can support someone with a diagnosis.
“Our lives took a drastic change in April 2021 when we received the news that the changes we had noticed in my breast were cancer. Within weeks I was sitting in an oncology chair in Grand River Cancer Centre receiving my first round of chemotherapy. Medically that month was filled with appointments, scans, tests, and consultations. Personally, that month was filled with telling family, friends and our kids what was going on. Prayers, pleading and tears filled the first week.
Our family had recently experienced the devastating effects of cancer with my brother in 2017. Here I was 4 years later with a diagnosis of Inflammatory Breast Cancer and Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Entering the cancer world is overwhelming. Accepting that God has a plan in this challenge of life is difficult. I soon learned that IBC is aggressive, which meant an aggressive treatment regimen; chemotherapy, non-skin sparing mastectomy/lymph node dissection and radiation. I will probably spend my life telling people about IBC because it is often misdiagnosed as a breast infection. After a CT and bone scan, it was determined my diagnosis would be stage 3; there was no spread to other body parts. The CT scan did pick up on an abnormal appendix and the bone scan picked up very arthritic knees (no surprise there).
I felt fairly good during my entire journey, minus the days following chemo – referred to as “chemo weekends” in our home. The most challenging part was the inability to use my brain. From days 2-5 I was in a varying degree of brain fog. Doug had to think for both of usJ Finishing chemo was a happy step! A few weeks later a clear MRI and colonoscopy ensured surgery was a go. My 2 surgeons performed a double mastectomy and appendix removal in 5-6 hours. I woke up well rested and enjoyed the quiet time in the hospital. The biggest challenges post surgery is drains and not being able to reach my coffee mug or sleep on my stomach. For radiation I opted for accelerated sessions, which means an increase in dosage, to cut back on the amount of days I would need to drive to Kitchener. The skin burns were manageable and sometimes I had a chauffeur for my sessions!
I met so many fellow cancer fighters as I entered the doors of Grand River Hospital. I learned quickly that just like no two people are the same, no two cancer patients are the same. Everyone reacts differently physically, mentally and spiritually to a diagnosis and treatments. Some people joked, others took offence. Some wanted to be called a survivor, others a warrior. Some want to be alone; others want to be surrounded by people. Is there one thing to say to someone in a difficult situation? Likely not, but that’s ok. It is not about saying the perfect thing or doing the perfect thing. What I do know is that throughout my difficult days I had some great help. There were family members who filled my fridge every chemo weekend. Close friends saying, “I am picking up your kids today.” I had people delivering care package or bringing baking/meals. I received cards with words of encouragement or gift cards in the mail. I had emails, texts or messages from many friends, acquaintances & family. I even had multiple cancer survivors reach out and simply share their experience or offer any information I may need. These experiences were so meaningful and provided so much support.
Cancer changes everything, but life continues on around you. Our kids’ knew things were different, but ultimately they continued to grow up and cope in their own ways. The oldest looked worried most days, but still mastered the eye roll when asked to help. The second one tried to help out, but still had time to take apart many electronics and leave a trail of parts. The third one gave extra hugs, but still injured himself (or his noggin) at every opportunity. The youngest one talked about boobs a lot, but still showed us she doesn’t truly comprehend the last year when she told someone a few weeks ago, “my mom had covid in her boobs, so the doctor took them off.” We worked hard at keeping our kids’ life as normal as possible, while helping them learn to rely on God. I wanted to be a part of that continuation of aging. This diagnosis was a bump in my journey of life. A bump that gave me a new appreciation for life and a realization that now is the time to put our hope and trust in God because now might be all that we have. “