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

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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

The Peeps & The Deets of Bella Forza!

Super excited to have added some information to the blog site!  You will now find ‘about’ pages for both myself and my beautiful friend/fabulous makeup artist Sarah Byrne.  I have also added a description of what an experience with us will ‘look like’, the details of The Strength Package, and some kind words that past clients (with Bella Forza and Bella Faccia) have shared.

The Bella Forza Team

Lori & Sarah

“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”  Dr. Seuss

I’d love to hear from you with any thoughts you might have…

Strength.Beauty.Grace.

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