This is more than a cancer story

This is the story of one man's life,
his passions, his wife, and 1 photoshoot to capture it.

Often I write to myself when I don’t know what else to do with my emotions.
Here’s an entry I wrote a few days before I photographed Mark and Jodi
that I never intended to share with you:

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I barely even know you and I’m crying for you.
I barely even know you and my heart hurts for you.
I barely even know you and I’m pissed off for you.

And I have to photograph you on Monday.

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I remember thinking when they asked to give me a tour of the new Cancer Center in Port Huron… “I don’t want to see your cancer center. I do not want to see your money pit.”

I walked the halls with women I had just met who showed me the plush leather chairs sick and dying women, children, and men would sit in to get chemo, the big windows to let in natural light, the art on the walls, everything that was supposed to make everything that was happening in this terrifying building ok.

I realize now I walked into that building with the wrong eyes.

It’s not the caretakers IN the building that I should be mad at. It’s the leaders of the world that allow things to happen that cause cancer rates to be out of control, the money hungry pigs that won’t allow us to get our hands on that cure for cancer, and the sick idiots who, even if you do survive, think it’s ok to deny you health insurance in the future, so you remain hopeless.

That’s the people and the world I don’t understand.

But the kind, caring, soft spoken people I met in that building, no, I am sorry, I was wrong, and I am so thankful to have taken that tour. You are the angels of the world making the best environment you can for people in the worst situations of their life. You care. You fight. I thank you.

All I wanted to do was make a difference. I wanted to help people express themselves during a hard time, preserve a memory and a soul. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking past that, because let’s be honest, past that wasn’t fun. Past that was reality, and like most of us, I can hate reality. I tried to keep a work mindset so I wouldn’t be emotionally overtaken. I had a job I wanted to do.

My goal was to take someone for a day and allow them to get away from reality, and in doing so, give them a beautiful experience and beautiful portraits. It was going to be the luck of the draw… we would choose out of a hat who got to do a session with me, as to not be overwhelmed by photographing EVERYONE who may have wanted the experience. As much as I want to give that to everyone I am only one person, and again, reality… I knew I couldn’t take that all on, so we decided on booking 3-4 sessions each year.

One of the ladies in the cancer center mentioned your names and also mentioned the word terminal.

Terminal. That’s such an ugly word.

I kept the idea quiet, didn’t allow anyone to contact me about a session and got a hold of the girls at the office and said, “The couple you mentioned, I want to photograph them.”

Mark, I will photograph you on Monday, standing strong, surrounded by the things that make you you. I really, really hope to do you justice.

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Mark is sitting in my garage in his camo, the scar running across his head telling a dark story but we cover it with a hat as we sit among the things he was most passionate about... numerous guns, fishing poles, snow shoes, bows, trapping equipment, and wearing his normal dirty boots and sweatshirt he would wear out. We had hauled the outside in for him because we were not only afraid of the rain but at this point he was getting around mostly by wheelchair or a few feet with a cane. I'm so proud of him, how many times he got up and down out of that chair to hold and kiss his bride of nearly 25 years at the park, never complaining, and how later he would stand tall, arms crossed, strong, surrounded by his life's work and trophies. The next time I revisted that set Mark had already passed, and tearing it down was, well, ironic.

We photographed Mark on a Monday night after his wife called me, frantic that we were running out of time. He went into the hospital the following Wednesday, and passed Saturday.

So now Jodi, I speak to you. 

I cry while I write this. You are such a strong, fun, bad ass woman. I’m so thankful to have met you, even if it was through this process. Stay bold and beautiful you courageous and caring woman, and stop by any time. Thank you for trusting me and allowing me to be a part of your lives, and allowing me to be on your team. I didn't do this to gain anything, I wanted to gift something, but I've gotten so much from this experience, so thank you.

Check out Jen's Story for another empowering cancer story