The remarkable Ms. G.!
Note: Due to my client’s work it was my initial preference to only use her first initial, “G.”; however, as I typed, “G.” lacked the vibrance that IS this woman; therefore, I will call her ‘Grace’ (and, trust me, it fits)! 🙂
After a lifetime of having ‘lumps and bumps’, Grace had become a pro at doing self exams, going for semi-regular mammograms, etc., all of which afforded her the knowledge, on the morning of August 1, 2012, to know that this time something was different. Grace told me, “I just knew.” She called her doctor that morning, with some gentle encouragement from a coworker to not wait, and made an appointment for the same day. The doctor was as concerned as Grace and ordered a mammogram and ultra sound, which could both be done two days later.
At Grace’s August 3rd ultra sound she was told that she would need a biopsy; which was scheduled for one week later. That interim week was spent, as previously arranged, visiting her elderly parents with her beloved dog, Chloe. Not knowing what the final diagnosis would be, Grace told them nothing, to spare any unnecessary worry, and returned home for the test.
The day after Grace’s biopsy Chloe had a heart attack. Grace was told that Chloe was in congestive heart failure and would need to be euthanized. Grace and Chloe had the weekend to spend together; cuddling, visiting loved ones, and going for walks. On August 13th Grace had to say goodbye to Chloe and then leave the next day for a conference in the U.S., which is where she vowed to present at the April 2013 conference in Europe. She then arrived home to news that she had Invasive Ductal Breast Cancer that may have spread to her lymph nodes.
Due to the fast growing type of tumour, it was decided that they needed to slow/stop its growth through chemotherapy prior to proceeding with surgery. With an incredible support network, which she refers to as her ‘A-Team’, Grace met chemo head on – and it was tough. The cocktail she was given was known to be hard-hitting, but no one could have prepared for just how hard-hitting it was. Through it all she has had friends around her constantly; she never attended a chemo session alone, and, during the darkest hours, her friends would rally with her at her home, staying overnight, providing care and laughs, and, as she puts it, “living around her”. Grace credits this exemplary demonstration of friendship, this “life around her”, as a primary reason she is here with us; still on the journey, but getting stronger by the day!
Grace, in B&W
At the conference that she was at last August, Grace had vowed, both to herself and others, that she and her colleague would present important and emerging information at an international conference to be held in Europe this April. Grace credits part of her resolve to beat Cancer to her promise made during that tumultuous time in her life last summer: when her hair fell out she would think, “I’m going to that conference”; when she had a near fatal experience on chemo she thought, “I’m going to that conference”; on those days when it was nearly impossible to get out of bed she would think, “I’m going to that conference.” Indeed, it has been Grace’s resolve, determination, and passion that has allowed her to accomplish AMAZING things in her life (things I so wish I could share publicly here…she’s done a lot for our society!), and which served her well during this battle for her life. Grace was in Austria two weeks ago, presenting to her colleagues, just as she knew she would!
Grace, in colour
One of the very difficult things about treatment for Grace was the loss of her long, blonde hair. She was determined at the outset that ‘her hair’ wouldn’t fall out. But it did. The chemo also stole her finger and toe nails. These things are poignant for us; while you are expending every ounce of strength into your fight, you must also, simultaneously, accept dramatic and often heart wrenching differences in your appearance. When Grace knew that her hair was in fact falling out, she, with her friend, found Compassionate Beauty, a specialized spa and resource for women undergoing cancer treatment. Compassionate Beauty provides support, products, post mastectomy products, medical hair loss solutions, and more, and was able to help Grace with the fitting and purchase of wigs (among other services) that allowed her the opportunity to maybe not feel quite so vulnerable during a very difficult year. Nine months later, though, Grace is on the admirable journey of embracing her ‘new me’. She’s rockin’ a wicked, platinum pixie cut and is looking outrageously awesome in some new black frames! Grace told me that this session came at a perfect time for her…this is a time of change, growth, acceptance, fearlessness (I dare say something I can’t imagine she’s ever not rocked!), and a new-found confidence in a new look and outlook!
Grace, the movie star!
Grace finished her nearly 5 months of chemo in January; had a lumpectomy (now being referred to as breast conservation surgery) in February; and is currently undergoing radiation. Her sense of humour and unwillingness to back down from the fight are the stuff of legend.
G., it was my absolute pleasure to meet you, to hear and then convey your story, and to photograph you. I sincerely hope that you see the beauty, intelligence, life, and vibrance in these images as I see in you!