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.”

_f8a0206-8x1272

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

_f8a0110-8x1272

_f8a0085-8x1072

_f8a0203-12high72

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

Advertisements

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

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

A flamingo you say?!

Designing a logo for a business is both fun and daunting…you have the power to create something that really speaks to both the vision of your venture and of you, whilst also, hopefully, communicating something powerful to your clientele.  On the other hand, you have to create something that really speaks to both your vision and to you whilst communicating articulately to your clientele!  It’s like naming your child!

When I set about the early phase of logo design; I asked some people in my life if they had any ideas; these creatives and non-creatives are all people I trust and respect.  Many of the replies I received included the theme of birds.  I hadn’t thought of birds until then, but was immediately drawn to the idea.  I think birds conjure, for many of us, thoughts of freedom, beauty, and nature (and with ‘nature’ the more inclusive thought of connectedness).

I began to investigate which bird might best communicate my vision…some of the birds suggested by friends and family were perfect in many ways (the strength and stoicism of the Eagle, the beauty and fragility of the Hummingbird (which happens to be my favourite bird, so much so that I have a tattoo of one), the good tidings associated with the Blue Bird) but I wanted something different, I wanted something unique.  Enter the Flamingo.

Last fall I had begun sketching out ideas for Bella Forza, including key words that I thought defined the vision:  STRENGTH – GRACE – BEAUTY – BALANCE.  In February, while researching logo ideas with a focus on using a bird, I discovered that the flamingo symbolizes: strength, beauty, grace, and balance!  Wow, SHE WAS PERFECT!

One of my favourite colours (and stones) has always been turquoise.  In fact it is the accent colour in my studio (if you’ve seen shots of the Bella Faccia studio you may have noticed my awesome turquoise Buddha!).  Enter turquoise.

I was convinced I wanted to use turquoise in the logo but also knew it would be wise to Google it first (you can love something and think it’s lovely but if it has a different/negative connotation to others it’s good to know that upfront while you are still able to change things!)  When you Google turquoise you will find entries like: encourages inner healing; associated with flexibility, serenity, tranquility, wholeness, and openness; “you only have to focus on this colour and you will feel instant calm and gentle invigoration.”  Hooray, I could feel my ideas coalescing.  Enter Julie.

Julie Bough is a graphic designer in town, whom I found through our mutual friend (and extraordinary person & photographer), Kyla Gibson.  Julie helped me design Bella Faccia’s logo back in 2010 and I was hopeful she’d help me again.  To Julie’s credit and professionalism, I don’t think working on a logo design with a ‘creative type’ is simple, she said yes!  I have likened designing a logo to hiring someone to buy jeans for you (speaking to women on this one!): you think you want a deep wash, you think you want mid-rise, you think you want boot cut, and you think you know your size.  Well, if only logo design (and jean shopping!) were so simple…truth is that there is plenty of back and forth: I like this, I don’t love that, could we try it this way, hmmm, better go back to the other way, and on, and on, and on.  Through it all Julie was supportive, helpful, professional, and an ally in me getting to my perfect logo…

Image

I love everything about what Julie and I have created…and I hope that all that she, my Flamingo, represents will help communicate what Bella Forza is about.  I also hope that the fact that she is, ummm, unique, will also resonate with people – nothing wrong with a little quirkiness and levity in life, especially when you might be fighting for yours.

Strength.Beauty.Grace.

Lori

Bella Forza: Celebrating Strength.Beauty.Grace.

Sometimes we need to take our time, contemplate, ponder, dream, work, concentrate, and deliberate on things…sometimes we need to just take a leap of faith.  Today, after nearly three years of deliberation, I am taking that proverbial leap.  Bella Forza is officially launched and I am officially thrilled.

This story, seemingly, begins in May of 2010 when I was readying myself for a boudoir shoot.  Part of my session preparation included a professional mani/pedi.  The esthetician that day was this super lovely Irish woman who seemed part esthetician/part philosopher/part prophet.  We spent three hours together talking and, at one point, she stopped what she was doing and while holding my hands she looked in my eyes and said, “I see you working with people who are vulnerable; not everyone can do it but YOU CAN.”  I was blown away, I can’t convey in words how incredibly powerful that moment was between us.  In hindsight, I now see that she helped germinate a seed that I believe had been present for many years prior.

Following that encounter I confided in only a few people about wanting to photograph women facing serious illness.  My mom was diagnosed in February 1995 with fourth stage Breast Cancer and we lost her in the fall of 1997; sadly we don’t have any portraits of her that truly showcase her beauty, her fortitude, or her courage. I felt as though I could offer something real, an empathy borne of first hand knowledge together with a tangible piece of evidence conveying the beauty that resides within…but I didn’t have the required self confidence just yet.

Image

Mom with my sister and me, c. 1974

For nearly three years I have been thinking of this path but each time I gave it serious thought I would get hung up on fear: how would something like this be received, do I charge, am I good enough, am I compassionate enough, AM I ENOUGH???

Then, in October of 2012, I met the beautiful (and talented hair and makeup artist) Sarah Byrne.  We’d been ‘Facebook friends’ for a while and finally knew that we just had to meet in person (we felt like kindred souls).  During our very first meeting I confided in Sarah about my dream to help women facing serious illness and she confided in me about having the same desire! It was magical and motivating and real!  I am so excited that Sarah has chosen to be part of the Bella Forza team!

Who we are, truly are at our core, is evident in our eyes and smiles, regardless of our current situation and, perhaps, often in spite of it.  Yousuf Karsh, an acclaimed portraitist whose body of work I greatly admire, said, “There is a brief moment when all there is in a (wo)man’s mind and soul and spirit is reflected through his eyes, hands, and attitude.  This is the moment to record.”  I am not comparing myself to the brilliant Karsh, simply communicating my desire to be just as good.  My clients will feel both my absolute commitment to creating a beautiful portrait of and for them and also my compassion for their journey.

It is important for me to say to you that this is not a ‘pet project’ wherein women who are vulnerable will need to ‘fit my aesthetic’; rather, this is ALL about my clients and THEIR journeys.  If a woman is newly diagnosed with, say, Cancer, she may wish to have a beautiful portrait before her treatments begin and she potentially loses her hair, her breasts, or whatever is necessary to preserve her life; perhaps a woman is mid treatment and is recognizing her inner strength and wishes to have a portrait conveying that part of her journey; or, maybe a woman has stood her ground against the beast, has won, and wishes to celebrate HOPE.  All of these women are welcome in my studio and each will be met with my open heart and my continually improving skills.

Two spectacular women (whom I will introduce you to shortly!) have already had their portrait created with Bella Forza; another beautiful soul will be in studio as soon as she is recovered from her recent surgery.  These women’s stories are powerful and I am so honoured to be in a position to help share their stories, grace, and wisdom.

Since the inception of Bella Faccia I have felt as though I was pursuing my dream and passion; since my first shoot for Bella Forza I feel as though I am pursuing my heart’s path.

Strength.Beauty.Grace.

With gratitude,

Lori