“Can we be FB friends? I feel like a 5 year old- will you be my friend?…If it helps I probably won’t be around forever…” If you did not know Jen’s sense of humor, you might be shocked that someone, who was just diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, would say that to you. The very thought of not being around for much longer would not usually be in one’s mind as they made new friendships, let alone using that as the bait to seal the deal. But Jen is different. Jen is real.
We all know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. We all know someone who has had, currently has or will have breast cancer in their lifetime. And we all know that not everybody gets to tell their story. However, last year, I teamed up with photographers from all over the world, to provide free portrait sessions for women with breast cancer. I PICTURE HOPE (IPH) was started by Camille Denae after seeing her mother battle breast cancer. Through I Picture Hope, Camille’s mission is to remind women, that although breast cancer has tried to take away their femininity, they are still beautiful.
Enter Jen….and her glitter-filled lungs.
“Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer not too long ago and now she just let everyone know that it had metastasized in her lungs. A few years ago, her then 3 year old daughter Lily, had two types of cancer and is now in remission. Jen and her family have been through so much, because this cancer is a rare genetic type that also took the lives of her father and brother. However, Jen is so amazing in that she is incredibly positive and one of the funniest and most caring person I have ever met. She and Phil are so in love and are the type of parents that most people wish they could be. It breaks my heart that she just received this news, but she is such a strong person.”
These are the words of Jen’s friend, Sharon. Along with this message, she sent me a link to Jen’s blog
As I sat there in tears, reading through her blog, there was no doubt Jen would be the IPH recipient for this year. I quickly forwarded the link to a fellow photographer, Brenda Van Valkenburg, and asked if she would be interested in helping me create a special video for this family. Although Brenda and I are both photographers, we approached this session from completely different angles. I photograph women, capturing the intimate relationships and moments in their lives. Brenda photographs nostalgic memories for the children, creating heirloom pieces for years to come. Along with Brenda, my hair and make up artist, Sheena, also volunteered her time and talent to give Jen a full makeover for the day.
Sitting there in Starbucks, listening to her tell her story, we both fought back tears. Living with Li Fraumeni Syndrome (her “mutant” cancer gene, as she has affectionately named it) is simply that. Living. You have no guarantees, other than the fact that your body will try to kill you with one form of cancer or another. The only option you have is hope. And a good sense of humor. Both of which, Jen has plenty!
Watching Jen dance with her husband, Phil, as the sun set on that Sunday evening, will be a memory I carry with me for a long time. Just the two of them, alone yet surrounded by the family they have created together. The family that loves, cries, fights and holds one another as they navigate the next wave that has washed over them. This is a woman I wouldn’t think twice to be friends with…on Facebook and in real life. And dammit Jen, you’d better be around for some time to come. Because I like you!!!