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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Nikki’s Story of Cancer & Photography

Since day 1 of writing this blog, as with the blog for Bella Faccia Photography, I have wanted to share honesty, inspiration, insight, optimism, photography, and the message that we are all connected.  I believe that our personal experiences shape us in immeasurable ways; I also believe that we can be changed by the experiences of others…this is the primary reason I have chosen to start hosting guest blog posts.

The first ‘guest words’ for Bella Forza are Nikki’s.  A month or so back I was honoured to be featured on oopoomoo.com’s “Inspirations” blog series (you can find it here: http://www.oopoomoo.com/tag/bella-forza) and Nikki commented on the post.  I was touched by what she wrote and contacted her to see if she might be willing to share her story of ‘cancer and photography’ with us, and I’m so grateful that she said yes!

It takes courage to speak your truth, it takes courage x 10 to speak your truth on the web.  What you’ll read of Nikki’s story is moving – both honest and funny. 

Nikki, I thank you.  My perspective is of a person whose loved ones have had Cancer diagnoses; it is with such gratitude to you that today I can share ‘first-person’ words that I know will inspire others.  xo

Strength.Beauty.Grace.

Here are Nikki’s words…

While on a trip to the states in September 2009, my life path was altered forever. I had noticed my breast changing shape in the months previous but attributed that to my weight loss program (60 lbs). I even kidded with my husband, ‘”it’s my cancer breast”. Oh, foolish me. I had tried to look for a lump but never found anything, however the day before we returned home, I found the lump I had been searching months for. That was Thursday, on Saturday I was at the walk-in clinic. I was told I’d need my first mammogram and an ultrasound. After those tests they told me it was likely carcinogenic. Not words you want to hear, ever. After that, things started happening quickly with a biopsy and then more waiting for the results. I knew what they would be but I needed to hear it from the doctor. Finally, on October 2 (after pestering the clinic all week), I went in at noon with hubby to meet with the doctor. He told me it was breast cancer and that I had a long road ahead of me with a 2.2 cm tumor. I was able to keep it together until we got outside. The next couple days were spent telling our friends and family and getting ready for the next steps. Devastating news that no amount of preparing can prepare you for.

My way of coping was to lean on my love of photography. It gave me a purpose when I went to each test and exam. I brought my camera to take photos of the equipment and myself. I’m sure the techs thought I was crazy but they allowed me to take my photos. The next month was busy as I went for scans and other tests to find out if the cancer had spread to other organs. A very scary and lonely time. Both my parents had dementia so I was unable to share the news with them. Luckily hubby was there for me and some close friends and relatives. We had a pre-planned trip to Las Vegas for Oct 29-Nov 1 to celebrate a friend’s 21st birthday. It was a good time, but hard for me to truly enjoy as I knew on Nov 4 I would be having a mastectomy (I really hate that word!).

Knowing that my body would be changing in ways I could never imagine, I booked a professional portrait session (first one since our wedding years earlier!) in mid-October. I wanted a record of my waist-length hair, something I had grown for quite a long time. I’ve always wanted long hair as a little girl. Perhaps part of me also wanted photos for hubby of us together, if things didn’t turn out well. I also wanted photos of my breast, soon to be gone, so had hubby do the honors of taking those photos. I’ve always loved photography and I was determined to document every damn step of this journey.

After surgery, I found out the tumor was twice as large (5 cm), had spread to many lymph nodes and was quite advanced (Stage 3b). Every time I seen the doctor, the news seemed to be worse. I had about 8 weeks to recover before chemo began on December 29. Merry Christmas! I was scheduled for 6 treatments every 3 weeks. The day chemo began, I was there with my camera, to document every moment of this treatment. Especially the awful ‘red’ medicine which would take away my hair.

Excited and nervous at my first chemo treatment, ready to kill all the bad cells!

Excited and nervous at my first chemo treatment, ready to kill all the bad cells!

Shortly before my second chemo treatment, I decided to cut my hair to shoulder-length as it was falling out and in a knotted mess. I arranged a night to do it and had some close friends over. I was sure that I would be a hysterical mess. I had one of my friends make a braid so that I could save that. Then she was ready to do the chop, but I was feeling confident and suddenly wanted to cut it myself. Cancer was not going to make me weak and helpless! So she handed me the scissors and chop chop went my hair, about 23 inches of it. It was very freeing. Hubby videotaped the whole episode and we took several photos after of my short ‘do’. Surprising myself, I didn’t cry or feel emotional. It’s amazing how your body and brain allow you to cope with all these sudden life changes.

Chemo was its own challenge, but again I was not going to let cancer get the better of me. I was usually down for close to a week and then I would have a couple decent weeks before the next treatment. I would force myself to go on walks in the park area every day. Even though it was January/February and -20 most of the time, I still went and would take of photo of myself each day as I arrived at the half-way point. A way to say to myself, you’ve made it this far. A lot of people are confident enough to go out bald-headed during treatment but not me. There was no way I was going to allow people to give me the ‘pity’ look, no way! I had a lovely wig that was shoulder length that I wore with hats and scarves. Some people even thought it was my real hair. It was hard enough being the youngest person in the chemo room, there was no way I wanted people feeling sorry for me.

Once chemo finished, I was ready for my hair to return. On my last day of chemo, I finally shaved my head myself and removed the last few strands of hair that had hung in there. I figured if cancer wanted to take my hair, it had to come and get it as I wasn’t handing it over. I started photographing my eyelashes, eyebrows and hair. I would set up my camera and then get hubby to take the photos every week. I even had a ruler I would use on my head to show how long my hair was getting. I was obsessed that it grow the ½” per month that it was supposed to!

Radiation was the next hurdle that began in May in Calgary, which meant driving about 3 hours every day for a month. I could’ve stayed over but I wanted to be home every night in my own bed. Radiation was not going to alter my life! I drove on my own mostly and had friends and my sister come with me sometimes. For my first treatment, I insisted on the techs taking a photo of me on the machine. I’m sure they thought me mad! But they humored me. On the last day of radiation, June 9, 2010, I brought a cake for the techs and we took more photos to celebrate the wonderful day.

I’d like to say things have gone smoothly since, but no such luck. I developed lymphedema in my arm during chemo (a life-long condition). Last year I had my first reconstructive surgery and developed numerous blood clots on both lungs which made recovery a little harder. This past January was surgery #2 and it went great. I have one more to go before my reconstructive journey is over … so close!

Photography was an integral part of my entire journey. Not only was I able to document every test, appointment but also the loss of hair/breast and then the return of those which brought me full circle. It gave me a purpose, almost a distraction that allowed me to focus on the procedures and not stress/whine and complain about the symptoms. When you go through something like this, it’s helpful to have certain goals in mind. Mine was going to see Bon Jovi a month after radiation. Sounds silly but it helped me through chemo as I would think, I cannot allow chemo to delay anything as I have a tight timeline!

@Bon Jovi!

A month after finishing treatment I was able to accomplish my goal of attending the Bon Jovi concert in Calgary.

This is definitely a life changing journey, but I never wondered why me, I just focused on getting down to business and getting through it. Considering I was the person who would rarely see a doctor once a year and only for something serious, it’s been a big adjustment. I still don’t like going to the doctor but at least I’m around to go!

Thank you Lori, for allowing me the opportunity to share my story with your readers.