Why? I get asked why all the time. Why these people? Why this organization? Why would you do this to yourself?
If you followed the Twinkie saga, you’ll remember Dr. P., best doctor ever, a.k.a. that jerk who put me on bed rest and made my life a living hell for a while. What you didn’t know about Dr. P. was the story of his son, James. As I sat on the ultrasound table listening to him, tears rolled down my cheeks. I had found the group of people I wanted to work with: childhood cancer families.
After a forced hiatus, I jumped back into photography when the twins hit six months and started making connections with St. Baldrick’s families. I knew at some point I wanted to connect with James’ Mama, Patti, but was unsure how to broach the subject. Since I’m soooo shy, I connected via Facebook and she started to share James’ story. For those of you who ask me why, here’s why:
On August 23, 2004, three-year-old James was diagnosed with leukemia. His family had moved here from New York approximately one month prior to his diagnosis. Mom took James into Boulder Medical Center (where Dad, Mike, had just taken a new job) for a low-grade fever. After three weeks of feeling up and down, sleeping more, and eating less, they knew that something wasn’t right. After a round of blood work, they had the answer: leukemia.
Treatment for boys with leukemia lasts 38 months. James was a champ! He responded very well to treatment, and he was in a study at Children’s Hospital, which was ranked #4 in the nation for its oncology program that year. Once he finished his treatment (three years, two months), James went in for routine blood draws every four weeks.
Twenty months off of therapy, on August 19, 2009 (the first day of 4th grade) almost five years to the day, the leukemia was back. James had relapsed, and this time, it was an uphill battle every step of the way. His body had a difficult time managing the chemo treatments, he couldn’t fight infections, and he was in isolation constantly because of those infections, until his body could no longer fight. On May 25, 2010 (the last day of 4th grade) at just nine-years-old, James lost his battle to leukemia.
During James’ treatment, he and his family were heavily involved with St. Baldrick’s. Every year, this cool kid, Luke, shaves his head in honor of his brother. They have made friends with so many families over the years through this amazing foundation, and James’ friends still keep his memory very much alive.
While James’ life was short, he made a huge impact on those around him. He was “funny, sarcastic, mischievous. He was always ready to play a practical joke, always laughing when one was played on him!” He was “definitely the ‘alpha’ child. Insisted on being totally in charge of the TV! Loved being with his friends Oliver, Caleb, Ben, and Finn. Loved Legos!! Loved his monkey.”
This session with James’ siblings was one of my hardest sessions to date. I already knew and loved Anna and Luke, so it was fun to see these two again, but the magnitude of these photos was not lost: These were the first photos taken of the kids without James.
Did you know that forty-six children are diagnosed with cancer every day? Did you know that seven children die from cancer every day? Cancer is horrible. I work with these families because I love them, because it could have been us and not them, and because sometimes you just need to smile.
Patti, I hope that you are blessed by these images, and that I honored James’ memory. Thank you for sharing your story, and allowing me to tell it.
If you or anyone you know has a child battling or has battled childhood cancer, send them my way. I would love to bless every one of them with a complimentary family session.
*All photos of James are courtesy of Patti Farouche*