Twice, I have been contacted by Moms wanting me to photograph their daughter before she loses her hair to chemotherapy. As someone with tremendous empathy for suffering children, those are tough calls to take, and I can only imagine how much tougher it is for the parent to make.
Many of us equate cancer treatment with hair loss, but there is so much more to it than that. The treatment process becomes a way of life for the entire family, with the hair loss the least of any parents’ concerns.
One family graciously consented to my documenting their major events as they move through the process.
I met with Ella and her family just after she received her first dose of chemo for a Wilms Tumor. She was not immuno-suppressed the day of her session, so we met at Duke Gardens.
I adore these guys. They take an awesome family photo simply by interacting with each other and showing their love for each other.
I left the session inspired by the overwhelming spirit of this family. Their devotion to each other sets an example for all of us. I also left the session @#!*% that cancer has touched their lives – or any lives, for that matter.
The next time we met was at Duke University Hospital; Ella needed a CAT scan to measure the size of her tumor. The hope was that the tumor had shrunk so much, she would not require surgery to remove it. Her family was full of hope despite their nervousness.
There was roughly a four hour wait between Ella’s vital signs being checked and her being brought in for the scan. Ella’s wonderful parents kept her entertained and supported each other throughout.
Since Ella had been fasting from the time she woke up until after her scan, she was a hungry child. My heart went out to her parents, rendered powerless to satisfy their toddler’s thirst and hunger for hours on end.
Their high hopes were dashed by the news that Ella will need surgery to remove the tumor.
We met a few weeks later, again at Duke.
Pre-op on surgery day. I learned that day that a toddler in a hospital gown is a heartbreaking sight, and if you’ve seen one diaper through the back of an open hospital gown, you’ve seen one too many.
I can’t fathom the anxiety and despair parents must face when allowing their little girl to go under the knife. My heart hurt for everyone.
Ella’s parents listening as the surgeon walks them through Ella’s procedure:
First dose of anesthesia for the baby girl, and Mom watching as she is wheeled away to surgery:
I felt for Ella’s parents, watching their baby being sedated knowing full well what follows. They were amazing and courageous, determined to send Ella off to surgery with memories of happy, playful faces.
The family kisses good bye as the doctors look on, ready to do what they do best while demonstrating compassion for the family’s needs.
Time seemed to stand still until the word came back that Ella was out of surgery and back in recovery.
Photos don’t do the recovery room justice; imagine loud beeping noises, kids crying and screaming, parents riddled with fear, and nurses trying to be effective yet unobtrusive. It’s also dark, except for the light emanating from the equipment monitoring the kids.
Finally – her own room! They’ll call this home for about four days.
It was later determined that Ella would need several more weeks of chemo.
Another visit, this one for chemotherapy. So many people have no idea what that really means.
For the uninitiated, it’s treating a disease with chemicals.
In Ella’s case, it was an infusion of multiple drugs to be administered through an IV. Due to the toxicity of the drugs, the nurses wear full biohazard gear when handling them. The chemical cocktail is red, but a bright green bag is used to conceal that fact.
Ella has finished chemo! Yay!
I am very excited to see her and her family outside of the clinical setting, and to take more family photos. I get a kick out of Ella recognizing me – as soon as she spots the camera hanging around my neck.