Shortly after launching Bella Forza in 2013 I had a personal situation that de-railed my life…including the work I so badly wanted to focus on with this very special division of Bella Faccia Photography. I had to step away and tend to the more pressing priorities of life and this passion would have to wait.
Eventually, I started to feel like I could turn my attention back to this important portraiture…I immediately thought of a radiant woman I’d met through soccer when our daughters were on the same team. During a practice one night we were chatting and she had told me her story of surviving Cancer…I was awestruck – this beautiful, young woman had looked her own mortality square in the eyes and fought – fought for her own life, for her husband and daughter, and for the opportunity to have another child, and, here she was in front of me – the picture of health and optimism and vibrance. Her story was profound and I wondered if she would be willing to be a ‘re-launch’ client for me, now that a few years had passed since the original launch of Bella Forza. I sent her an email, from a booth at BP’s, as the kids ate and I felt the enthusiasm of returning to this work, and, holding my breath, I asked. I offered Jill the full experience – hair, makeup, studio portrait session, and framed print – with the hope that, in return, she might share her inspiring story of resilience with our Bella Forza audience. I was THRILLED when she agreed!
As we are both busy women and moms, the shoot wouldn’t happen right away…in fact, it was only in the summer of 2016, when Jill signed up to participate in The Birthday Book Project (a collaborative project I am a part of – look it up, it’s cool!), that we finally got our shoot on the calendar!
Below is Jill’s story, in her own words:
“This is what we had planned, this was something we had wanted, but when I took a pregnancy test and it was positive, something just wasn’t right. I didn’t know what, but my instincts were telling me that I shouldn’t be happy about this positive test.
About a week before my scheduled ultrasound, I started spotting and I remember thinking, this is it. I went to see my family doctor right away and they checked and said there was no heartbeat, but it was still early. I can’t really say that I was shocked by this, but still distraught, as I haven’t ever experienced a miscarriage before.
From there, they sent me to get an emergency ultrasound. My mom was with me since Darrin was helping our friends move that day. The ultrasound tech wasn’t able to tell me anything until the doctor had come in the room. I remember the first thing the doctor said to me was, “are you here with anyone?” and that’s when my stomach dropped and the confirmation that my instincts were right. My mom came into the room and the doctor told us that it was a molar pregnancy and that there was no fetus growing, but just tissue. It wasn’t anything that could have been prevented, but something went wrong during conception and this was the result. I had little time to process this before I met with our family doctor. He sat me down and explained further what a molar pregnancy was, how rare this is, how complicated it could get and what our next steps would be.
I was in the Rockyview Hospital shortly after that, for a d&c. I was to get weekly blood tests to monitor my pregnancy hormone levels (Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)). This was supposed to be it. Surgery to remove the tissue and then weekly blood tests and we would hopefully be able to try again to get pregnant. I didn’t feel that I was recovering properly after the d&c and my doctor had called to tell me that my hCG levels had gone up since the surgery.
Back to the Rockyview Hospital to get another ultrasound, which confirmed that it was a complete molar pregnancy (Gestational trophoblastic disease- Invasive mole) and that there was a mass growing in my uterus. I received a shot of a chemo drug that would hopefully shrink and get rid of the mass.
I received another phone call from the doctor that my hCG levels had gone way up even after that chemo.
In the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, hCG levels would normally be between 3,640 to 117,000. By this time, I had peaked at 500,000.
I was sent to the Tom Baker Cancer Center shortly after that to meet with the Gynecologic Oncologist. We were overloaded with information about this foreign diagnosis and were basically given 2 choices. I could get a hysterectomy or start on intravenous chemotherapy. I was 28 at the time, and I knew another baby was something that i had wanted. Even if they had given us less than 5% chance of conceiving again, I would no doubt try the chemo. The hysterectomy was out of the question unless it was completely necessary.
My chemo treatments would be every second Thursday, and the list of side effects from the chemo seemed to be endless. I had a lot of pills to counteract the side effects, including anti nausea, a steroid, and sleeping pills.
The fatigue seemed to hit me the worst, and as soon as I felt like I was human again, it would be time for my next treatment. Soon enough, my hair started shedding and running my fingers through my hair and pulling handfuls of hair out started to become nauseating.
After my 3rd treatment, I was feeling the chemo hangovers were getting worse. My hCG levels were dropping, but my hemoglobin levels were also low. After my chemo, Thursday nights were becoming worse. I would begin spotting, which turned to massive hemorrhaging for about 2-3 hours on those nights after my treatment. So much so, that I was back in the hospital for my first blood transfusion.
The chemo was doing what it was supposed to be doing, which was shrinking the rapidly growing tumor, but it was also attacking the rest of my body, causing my hair to fall out and causing my hemoglobin levels to drop, resulting in many blood transfusions. If my hemoglobin was too low, I couldn’t receive my needed chemo treatment. It was such a confusing and painful cycle.
Before my next treatment, the doctor had advised me to get a PICC line for my future blood tests and chemo treatments. This is something that I hope I never have to experience again. Somewhere along the way, my PICC was dislodged and was basically useless.
It was around my 6th treatment, and that will be a night that I will never forget (not for lack of trying). Before I went in for chemo, my blood test showed that my hemoglobin was low, so I was given 2 units of blood that morning. Again, that Thursday evening, I woke up and was hemorrhaging, a lot worse than it had ever been. I was in and out of consciousness, and Darrin called an ambulance. They rushed me over to the Foothills Hospital and everything progressed so quickly. I was bleeding even more than before and I started to get contractions. I ended up passing part of the tumor and losing a lot of blood. Part of the tumor that had spread in my uterus was still there and the bleeding didn’t stop right after that. I went to get an embolization of an artery in my uterus to help slow the bleeding and shortly after, I received about 8 more units of blood. We were told that night that I was lucky to still be alive.
I had hoped that after that nightmare, my hCG levels would be significantly lower, but they were still around 20,000, which meant, more chemo. The side effects still got worse as I went along, and the blood transfusions continued.
After almost 9 months of chemo treatments, bald, scarred both physically and emotionally, I was finished. Finished with that hospital, finished with my pills, finished with my anxiety filled days consumed by this turmoil that started with a positive pregnancy test. We were told to wait a year after my last treatment to try again to get pregnant. Of course, there was a chance of another molar pregnancy, secondary cancer diagnosis, early menopause, and again, the list went on.
Our daughter, at the time, was around 3 and we really tried to shelter her from this as much as we could. She was there with my husband for my very last treatment in July of 2010 and it was so hard to believe that I wouldn’t be returning to that treatment area.
We waited, and waited and I became pregnant in February 2012.
He was quite overdue, and when they mentioned they could induce me on November 11, I cried. That was the date of my d&c, 3 years prior, and it held that memory for me. I didn’t want my baby to be brought into the world on a day that had such a bad memory for me. Thankfully, I was induced a day earlier, and our little miracle was born on November 10, 2012. With everything that happened, I wouldn’t change a thing. We have two healthy children and a story of a battle that made me, our marriage and our family stronger.”
In October, Jill came to my home studio where she was pampered with hair and makeup before a full studio portrait session (my special thanks to Jill McDavid for donating her time – and always warm personality – to assist). We ‘played’ for a few hours – there was music, a fan, wardrobe changes, and even a glass of Prosecco 😉 …no doubt this was outside of Jill’s day-to-day and comfort zone (despite her supermodel looks!) but she was effusive afterward, texting me: “This morning was incredible. Seriously. Plus your positivity and Jill’s presence…you both made me feel truly beautiful and at ease!“
Jill, and her story, are an incredible reminder that each day is precious and that we can find beauty, strength, and gratitude in every situation. Thank you, Jill, for your vulnerability, generosity, and candor in sharing your harrowing story of struggle and triumph. It is such a joy to see you, with your beautiful family, healthy and enjoying your life together!
It is my wholehearted intention to provide a compassionate service that uplifts my clients and that we, together, create portraits they LOVE. It is also an immense privilege to share my clients’ stories, when circumstances allow, so that we all may be inspired by their Strength.Beauty.Grace.
HMUA: Trena Laine