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

Yep, it’s scary…do it anyway!

So, here we are…the day has arrived…tonight I will get up before the Foothills Camera Club and speak openly about Bella Forza Portraits and why it is so important to me.

Extra Oomph

Extra Oomph 😉

Being open about that which we care most about is hard…writing it down and hitting ‘post’ is hard, saying it aloud (in front of others!) even harder.  But isn’t that where true joy lives…isn’t it critical that we face our fears and banish the negative self talk that says that others might judge us – judge our words, our creations, our dreams? I mean, isn’t it also possible that they’ll think our words, creations, and dreams are amazing?  It took me years, YEARS, to work up my courage to finally follow my dream of providing compassionate portraiture…I’m sure not going to let a little fear over public speaking get in my way now, right?! 😉  (and sometimes we just need a little extra mojo…like a new blouse to add some oomph to our step!)

Whether it’s making an appt with your doctor because you fear something is wrong (my mom was scared of what the doc might say and so she left that phonecall until it was dangerously late), or if it’s making your own choices about your treatment plan even though it might differ from your family’s wishes, or if it’s as simple as a speaking engagement…go ahead and remind yourself that the beauty in life is in living it fully, everyday, based on your own heart and mind.  I’m certainly not saying it’s easy, any of it, but I am saying that in those moments that we are daring with our hearts, our hearts become stronger and our courage becomes greater.

Vulnerability is one of our toughest choices in life, but it is a choice…and choosing vulnerability opens us up to more love, more laughter, more adventure, more opportunities, more authenticity, more hope, more inspiration, and more joy.  Yep, I  pick vulnerability and I hope you will too!

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.    ~ Dr. Seuss

What are you going to do today that scares you a little, or a lot?

Strength.Beauty.Grace.

xo Lori

PS It is worth mentioning that when this invitation arrived in my in-box last Fall I told my kids about it and pondered, aloud, if I’d say yes.  My kids asked why I wasn’t sure and I told them, ‘because it’s scary!’, to which they so aptly replied, ‘aren’t we supposed to do things that scare us a little to grow.”  Love those kids – I’m a lucky mom! ❤

A Toast to 2013 with Wishes for 2014

I was honoured to provide portrait services to this young couple who, with grace and humour, are facing the incredibly difficult journey of his Cancer diagnosis.  They were my last session of 2013, just last week in fact, and I cannot imagine a more fitting end to my business year than a Bella Forza shoot!

Elizabeth & Cam Collage with Logo

This opportunity came to me through a new friend and photographer, Sheila, whom I met while attending another friend’s workshop this Fall.  Thank you, Sheila, for your trust in me and also for so graciously and wholeheartedly assisting on the shoot!  (hugs to you, Beautiful!)

2013 proved to be an incredibly difficult year for me personally; however, professionally it was terrific!  I was asked by the good folks at oopoomoo.com to participate in a panel discussion during their Persistent Vision seminar, which I happily (with knees shaking a little) did!  It was a wonderful and humbling experience (there I was sitting between David duChemin, Dave Brosha, and John Marriott! :O) that has led to new friendships and opportunities, the likes of which are still unfolding!  Shortly thereafter I unveiled Bella Forza Portraits…a dream that had been quietly germinating over the course of years and which is now a reality!  I feel ever grateful and hopeful for this work that so profoundly stirs my soul.

My calendar already has entries for 2014 that I am both excited about and scared of (which is a recipe for wholehearted living to be sure!)!  I am also incredibly excited about a future announcement for something that came to me as a jaw dropping epiphany (as in, “why haven’t I thought of this sooner?!)…stay tuned for that!

As we all face our own challenges, may we also celebrate everything that goes right for us and for others on a daily basis.  We must acknowledge the difficult times and they must be spoken aloud and without shame; however, so must we exclaim with joy all the little wonders of our lives: a great parking spot, a proud child, a heartfelt embrace, a good book, a friend’s time and attention, an inspired blog post, a great shot we make ‘in camera’ ;), lucky pennies, a smile from a stranger, and the dawn of each new day that affords us the opportunity to smile, to hope, to dream, and to love.

I wish us all a year ahead that gifts us growth, joy, love, and health!

NYE Card 2013

Happy New Year, life is beautiful!

Strength.Beauty.Grace. 

xo Lori

Lasagna and The Ripple Effect

How many times have we, in life, wanted so badly to help someone but been at a loss for how?  Inevitably, when a person faces a serious illness or debilitating injury, the first offerings, and longest lasting efforts, centre around food; which is, in my experience, wholly appreciated by the affected person AND their families (although we had one care worker who insisted on making trifle for us, daily…I can’t imagine every eating trifle for dessert again! 😉 ).  Given that this is the first thing that tends to come to mind when you are in the position of wanting to help a loved one, people’s fridges and freezers become full, quickly.  I remember feeling so awkward when my mom was sick and we had so many people wanting to help, but we really didn’t need any more lasagna!  It’s so difficult, as the grateful recipient, to say ‘no’ to these generous acts of kindness, especially when you don’t have any other suggestions of how they can help – people WANT to do something.

Well, what if there was a way to help that didn’t involve Tupperware?!

I’ve been through tough times, with both my mom’s illness and other life challenges…I know that prepared food, walking the dog, helping get kids to and fro school and activities, quiet games of Scrabble, and many more acts of kindness, are all incredibly important and provide unparalleled solace & relief.  I also believe that fun, uplifting experiences are needed too.  I recall spending the time painting Mom’s nails and doing her makeup, with chatting and laughter throughout, before friends would come to visit.  It wasn’t about pretending she wasn’t sick, it WAS about her not feeling that her role and as we saw her was as ‘patient’ only; it WAS about her having on her trademark red lipstick and feeling ‘ready’ for a visit.

I believe, deep in my soul, that a few hours away from ‘real life’, being pampered by a wonderful hair&makeup artist, having your portrait created, and then being gifted with a framed print from our session is healing.  I believe we all want to feel beautiful, we want to have fun, we need to feel alive…and I propose that this is one of the nicest things you could gift to a loved one.  I fully recognize that women facing health challenges may not instinctively seek out having their portrait taken; let’s face it, if you are fighting for your life a photo shoot may not seem an immediate necessity!  However, for any of you who are looking for a warm, loving, lasting experience to provide…I can’t think of anything nicer; and  please know that I’m speaking first as a daughter, sister, and friend and only secondly as a photographer.

There is also a bonus in this…the fact is that, as with all acts of generosity and kindness, there is a ripple effect for everyone associated.

The Ripple Effect

The Ripple Effect

The niece of my very first Bella Forza client had this to say about her aunt’s session, which she attended:

“…the experience was wonderful…this process has a real ripple effect – i can feel the positive response and gratitude amongst my extended family as they see what you did for my aunt and as they hear the story from an objective viewpoint – very powerful!! …actually, from my perspective I see what you are doing as amazingly therapeutic and healing for the woman and also for her nieces and siblings, extended family and friends…”

Another client, who is a young woman with a young family, told me that she had noticed the positive and heartwarming reactions of those closest to her with regard to her portrait session and that she felt it might take quite a while for her to really ‘see’ all the ways that this session was meaningful to her family…she told me that she felt it was as though they had a ‘tangible’ thing to hold now, evidence she had gone through something very real and life changing and that she had made it through the fire!

A fellow I follow on Twitter, Terry Alex (#TA), today posted, “A single act of kindness is like a snowball going down a hill. It starts small but grows larger & more powerful the farther it travels.”

The Strength Package includes hair and makeup (to whatever extent my client wants!), a portrait session, and a beautiful framed print (with its digital file for their personal use) for only $350.  I am also, absolutely, more than happy to customize the package…it is my wholehearted desire to provide an amazing experience to my clients and I am open to customizing the session and package to suit each person individually.  If she wants a portrait with her best friend(s), her kids, her mom, her beloved pet….the world is open to us and I am open to being your ally in making this an incredible experience.

…maybe your best friend is going through a difficult time and you’d like a portrait together….maybe your mom is ill and this could boost her spirits, and she’d especially love one of your family together…maybe you simply wish to provide a buoy to a coworker or friend to remind her that not every day has to only be about treading water.

Let me help you do something extraordinary for the extraordinary woman in your life.  I promise that your loved one will be met with compassion, support, a willingness to go above and beyond, and that I will do everything in my power to have her leaving my studio feeling bathed in strength.beauty.grace.!

Please visit Bella Forza on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bellaforzaportraits and share with your friends and family.  Let’s make some snowballs!

Strength.Beauty.Grace.

xo Lori

Waiting for Butterflies

I am honoured that Sharon, who was our first client, is willing to generously share a little more of her journey with us…

It was during Sharon’s treatment that journaling had been a suggested method of coping, which is how she found her outlet in poetry.  There she was: a wife, a mom to a three-year daughter and newborn son, surrogate mom to two nieces and a nephew, and in isolation for intensive chemotherapy…the days proved long and lonely; writing, she says, provided an opportunity for her to cope, to process, and to, even if only a little, unburden herself of the myriad emotions that accompany a life threatening diagnosis and its treatment.

It is our hope that by sharing this aspect of Sharon’s story, together with one of her poems from that difficult time, we might help another.  We are all different and there is obviously no one “right way” to cope; however, if you are facing your own war today, and if you haven’t tried journaling, poetry, or writing music, perhaps now you will, and perhaps it will grant you some calm within the storm.

* Please click on the image to see the larger (easier to read!) version.

Waiting for Butterflies, by Sharon Meier MacDonald

Waiting for Butterflies, by Sharon Meier MacDonald

With my sincere gratitude to Sharon for her gracious offer to share her poetry with the Bella Forza community.  It takes courage and fortitude to share our innermost thoughts, especially those written during our darkest days; Sharon, I know that this post will inspire others and we are collectively grateful.

Strength.Beauty.Grace.

xo Lori

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