Jill

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!

_f8a0196-14-long72As 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!

_f8a0384-12high72Below 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.”

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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!_f8a0443-12mhigh72

_f8a0445-12long72Jill, 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!_f8a0341-12high72

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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.

xo Lori

HMUA: Trena Laine

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The never ending circle of gratitude…

Anyone that knows me well knows that I love circles…to the point of having them inked on my body!  This afternoon I received an email that, to me, is further proof   that all is cyclical, including gratitude (I didn’t really need further proof but I will lovingly accept it with a huge smile!).

Last March I embarked on this hugely personal endeavour to create Bella Forza…I knew that it would require at least three women (more when you count those who referred my first clients) to help me show what I wanted to provide through Bella Forza.

My friend and fellow photographer, Sam Chrysanthou, was generous enough to see what I wanted to do and to trust why I wanted to do it; she spoke to her friend, Sharon, to see if she might be interested…she was and she became one of three very important people in Bella Forza’s journey.

Today Sharon wrote me with some thoughts on what her session, last March, has meant for her:

“Cancer knocked my feet out from under me.  I doubted my body.  I doubted my ability to cope.  I doubted my purpose.  I felt so vulnerable, so fragile.

Cancer tested everything I believed to be true, everything upon which I had built my life.  I struggled with the meaning of my experience, one that rearranged my career and my family life.  What remained after cancer’s destructive path through my life?

Gradually, I realized that beauty, truth and love remained, but there were many dark days on the journey to discovering this. Rebuilding my life in a way that incorporates what cancer taught me is my ongoing challenge.

Enter Bella Forza and its compassionate people.  Lori and Sarah heard my story, honouring me and my cancer journey.  They recognized my strength and gave “picture” to it.

I came away from my Bella Forza experience knowing that I had reached a milestone in my acceptance of my cancer-changed life.  Lori and Sarah heard and “imaged” me into being.

My beautiful Bella Forza portrait is in a place where it catches my attention every day.  I pause for a moment and remember–

I am beautiful.

I am strong.

Lots of people love me.

And I am reminded that today, I will Be.Here.Now.

© 2013 Bella Forza

Strength.Beauty.Grace. © 2013 Bella Forza

I felt infinite gratitude when Sharon walked through my studio doors, and I sat in tears this afternoon, in gratitude, that the circle was complete and it is beautiful.

Strength.Beauty.Grace.

xo Lori

Jackie

As I mentioned in a previous post; I wanted to have the opportunity to provide the ‘Strength Package’ to a few women prior to publicly launching Bella Forza and I asked family and friends if they knew of any women who might like the opportunity.  You’ve already met Sharon, and now I’d like to introduce you to Jackie…

One of the people I emailed early on was Cori, owner and instructor at Soul Health & Fitness in Calgary (www.soulhealth.ca), whom I know through my sister and who is, simply put, a wonderful person. Cori was quick to reply to me saying that she thought her Aunt Jackie would be perfect and that she would enquire with her…a few weeks later we were all together in the studio!

With Jackie’s permission I am sharing some of her story, which she shared with us as we sat around the table and she had her first ever makeup application, (which preceded her first ever professional portrait session!)…

Jackie has been married for 43 years and has shared the joys and challenges of parenting five children with her husband.  One of their children was born with serious health challenges and they were told that she wouldn’t live more than a few hours after birth.  Knowing that little ones need touch, Jackie cuddled her infant daughter for hours, which turned into days, then weeks….and her daughter is still with us these many years later!  It was during this very difficult time in her life that Jackie decided that she wouldn’t live her life in fear, and she wouldn’t let anyone dictate when a date of death would be “…because they don’t know.  They can’t know.  No one can tell me, with certainty, when someone is going to die and so we might as well get on with living!”  Jackie found freedom and peace once she made the conscious choice to simply live for the day.  Despite the doctors’ insistence that their daughter would not survive, Jackie saw a little girl who was surviving and proceeded to shift her thoughts and actions away from the terrible prognosis (not buying a crib, not preparing a room, etc.) and instead toward having her daughter come home with them from the hospital and all of the fun preparations that go into welcoming a baby into your family.  Jackie told me that she decided then that, “you can live to live, or you can live to die, and I choose to live to live.”   A decision that would ulimately inform her daily choices for the rest of her life and which has undoubtedly helped her in ways she couldn’t have foreseen those many years ago.

Jackie

Jackie

Flash forward to 1996 when Jackie was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  After an early treatment plan by doctors Jackie was given the opportunity to pursue further treatment (things like drug therapies, I understand, were suggested) but Jackie chose to not pursue any further treatments.  Sadly, the next year the Cancer was back and had spread.  Jackie then underwent a double mastectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy.  In 2012 Jackie was diagnosed with a recurrence and was told that the Cancer had spread to her lungs, kidneys, liver, and pancreas and she is currently undergoing treatment that combines both Western and Eastern medicine.  Through it all, Jackie maintains an upbeat attitude combined with humour and resilience.  She smiled and laughed as she shared with us her life truths and I could feel her words changing me as we sat around that table.

An impromptu shot of Jackie & Cori

An impromptu shot of Jackie & Cori

Jackie is living an existence that I am so humbled by.  She is the epitome of grace under pressure and, when it was time for her to leave, we hugged and I truthfully told her that I have never experienced a more rewarding session…it was moving, inspiring, meaningful, and hopeful.  I love this lady, I love her spirit and her determination, I love her example that you get to CHOOSE how you live your life, and I love that she was willing to participate in something that, by all accounts, was a fair ways outside of her comfort zone!  Thank you, Jackie, you have my abiding respect and gratitude.

Strength.Beauty.Grace.

Lori

Makeup by: Sarah Byrne

Sharon

One of the hurdles for me in launching Bella Forza was the thought that I needed to have something to show people…if I’m offering a photographic product I should have photographs to show.  I know this seems so basic, but it felt a little bewildering to me; in hindsight I think it stemmed from the early fear of starting something new, of failure.

In the email I sent to my trusted circle asking for their thoughts on logo design, I had also asked if they might know of a woman who could benefit from a Bella Forza session.  I offered to provide the first three clients with the Strength Package (hair, if appropriate, and makeup by Sarah Byrne, a one hour studio portrait session, and a framed print from their session (including its digital file) at no charge in exchange for the opportunity to use their images and stories in the Bella Forza launch and marketing.

A few days later my friend, Sam Chrysanthou, said that she might know of someone.  And a  few days after that I was in touch with Sharon, who would become our honoured first client!

Sharon, to her absolute credit, was excited about the opportunity but wanted to ensure that she ‘fit’ our criteria for the initial three complimentary packages.  In an early email to me Sharon wrote,

“…I am completely well after a cancer diagnosis and treatment from hell in 2006.  My recovery occurred in 2010.  I look great now, with a full head of hair and rosy cheeks, etc…”

My reply to Sharon included,”

“…I think showing women at all phases is important and I am equal opportunity beautiful!  🙂  I think your image, together with your story (which I am anxious to hear!) will be inspirational and full of hope.  I want for Bella Forza to show women who are beautiful and strong before, during and after serious illness…I keep thinking of a vision board and, if women visiting the site are newly diagnosed, ill, going through treatment, etc, just think of how your image, story, and resilience will buoy their hopes!…”

Sharon’s Story

Sharon was guardian to her two high-needs nieces and nephew and mom to a three year old daughter when she was pregnant with her second child.  During the last month or so of pregnancy Sharon was losing weight, amongst a few other symptoms, and only two days before the birth of her son did the doctor run additional tests and subsequently diagnose her with Cancer.  After the birth of a healthy son, Sharon was able to stay in the hospital with her son while the doctors ran further tests during the evening and night-time hours.  As though the first diagnosis wasn’t shocking enough, she was soon told that they’d been mistaken and that her new (and all too correct) diagnosis was even more serious.  Sharon had Burkitt’s Lymphoma.  She explained to us that this form of blood cancer is very aggressive and its tumours double in size every 48 hours!  Sharon described an excruciating four months of in patient treatment, when her daughter was unable to visit due to the stringent ward rules that protect the immunosuppressed.  During those long days in her hospital bed; Sharon spent her time arranging for new living arrangements for her nieces and nephew, and was also able to secure a government stipend that would help the families who were stepping up to provide a new home for her loved ones.  I can’t imagine the angst of being a thirty-something woman, having a three year old, a newborn, a working husband, and three high needs children all depending on you and you are laying in a hospital bed with Cancer.  Sharon credits many with making it through that difficult time including her husband and parents.

© Bella Forza

Sharon, Taken by Lori Maloney at the Bella Forza Studio in March 2013
HMUA: Sarah Byrne

Sharon, after what she described a ‘hellish 2006 to 2010’ is now Cancer free, healthy, energetic, and full of life and optimism (I expect that she has always been of the glass half full variety!)  She spoke openly of the struggles that she and her family endured, both during her treatment and afterward.  Her passion for wanting to convey to people to take care of themselves, to know that these diagnoses can happen to young people, and that it is imperative to listen to your body is profound.

Sharon’s quiet, hopeful, and open demeanour are an inspiration and her ability to rise above difficulties is something we can all learn from.  Thank you, Sharon, not only for the trust you placed in Bella Forza by being our first client but also for provoking in us a desire to be realistic with our health and optimistic with our approach.

Strength.Beauty.Grace.

Lori